Solid Waste Department object of comptroller investigation

By Becky Jane Newbold

Managing Editor

Scrap metal taken for personal gain by five employees resulted in a loss of revenue for Lewis County, a report from the state comptroller’s office found Tuesday.

The report, released June 7, 2016, outlined a cash shortage of at least $6,607.65 through the Lewis County Solid Waste Department.  The investigation, based on the period of June 5, 2014 through September 2015, revealed “employees of the Solid Waste Department removed and sold scrap metal for personal gain resulting in a loss of county revenue and a cash shortage.”

A second finding noted by Comptroller of the Treasury Justin P. Wilson’s office is that Lewis County’s Solid Waste Department “does not have written policies concerning the collection and authorized sale of recyclable materials.”

Three areas of disposal are managed by the Solid Waste Department:  the transfer station, the convenience center and the landfill.  Household garbage is disposed of at the transfer station.  Items for recycling such as cardboard, scrap metal, used batteries, oil, tires, paper and other materials are collected at the convenience station and are taken by vendors “who pay Lewis County for the materials.”

Payments for recyclables are revenue supplements for Lewis County assisting in keeping sanitation fees low for businesses and county residents, the report continued.  Sanitation rates have not increased since 1994.

Items for the landfill include construction scrap materials, trees and brush.  No hazardous materials are accepted.

The report stated employees of the Solid Waste Department admitted removing and selling scrap metals to local recycling companies for personal gain in a minimum of $6,607.65.  Employees reported that former County Mayor Van Ward (2010-2014) and current county Mayor Bill Webb (who took office September, 2014) advised them they could no longer take scrap.  “However, employees advised that the solid waste director and the former county mayor would again permit employees to remove scrap for personal gain,” the report continued.

During a telephone interview, former Lewis County Mayor Ward, who prior to becoming mayor was the Solid Waste Director for Lewis County, said he spoke with auditors “sometime back and I told them the truth.”

“This stemmed from men who carried some batteries to [a local recycling] place to sell.”  Ward was unclear on circumstances surrounding the attempted battery sales.  “I guess I don’t know exactly.”

Ward explained that when he was solid waste director he was responsible for Lewis County finding vendors to purchase scrap metal from the county.  Prior to that, he pointed out, the scrap metal was given away.

“We are waiting on the District Attorney to tell us something,” Mayor Bill Webb said Tuesday.  “I do not believe there will be criminal charges against the employees,” he continued.  “I believe they will pay the money back as the investigative report suggests,” he said.

Included in the investigation are Solid Waste Director Tony Bailey, employees J. P. Powell, Freddie McNabb and Bobby Webb as well as retired employee Jimmy Moon.

Bailey was said to be responsible for $12.92.  Other amounts reported for employees were $2,509.28, $451.56, $1,623.56 and $2,010.33.

“I became aware of the investigation several months ago but was not allowed to speak of it until 9 a.m. June 7,” Mayor Webb explained.  “When we found out, we stopped everything and put up signs,” he added.

“When I took office I told them they could not do that,” Mayor Webb continued.  “I did tell them they could take a few aluminum cans to cash in to buy drinks.”

Deficiencies found by the comptrollers office:

“The former county mayor, who was also the former solid waste director, acknowledged that while he was solid waste director, some employees got a few aluminum cans and maybe some wire, and sold these items for personal gain.  He also advised that when the Solid Waste Department began the recycling program, no employee was permitted to take scrap metal to sell.  Furthermore, he advised that while he was county mayor, he did not permit employees to remove items to sell for personal gain: however, he would allow employees and citizens to take small items for their personal use.

“The current county mayor advised that he told the solid waste employees that they could scavenge a few aluminum cans.  The county mayor stated that he was not aware of any written policy preventing the removal of the scrap from the county convenience center of landfill for personal gain.  However, he did state that he told the employees to stop removing items after hearing complaints that scrap batteries were being sold.

“During the period examined we determined that solid waste employees sold scrap…We were advised that the current solid waste director allowed employees to remove items to sell for personal gain.  Employees advised that they received permission from the former county mayor and the current solid waste director to remove items from the convenience centers and landfill and sell for personal gain.  At least one employee stated that employees were told to split the proceeds from the sale of the items with the current solid waste director.  However, the solid waste director denied receiving ay of the sale proceeds from employees.”

Recommendations were for the county to seek to recover any funds generated from unauthorized sale of scrap metal.  Employees should not remove and sell scrap items for personal gain and the department should maintain lists “detailing the authorized sale…of items sold as scrap and reconcile the sale proceeds from recyclers with amounts deposited with the county trustee.”  Also written policies should be developed and presented to the Lewis County Commission for approval then furnished to employees.

The case is with District Attorney Kim Helper, Mayor Webb explained.  D. A. Helper was unavailable for comment prior to press time Wednesday.

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