Monday, November 29, 2010

Excerpt from book about Waste Management, Lanny Young, and a judge's death

Note: This entry is the start of a chapter in, "The Governor of Goat Hill" called, "Lanny Landfill."

Later today (Monday), I will post some thoughts on recent developments in the Siegelman case and
my two cents worth on the Cam Newton situation.

As with the start of all chapters, this one begins with two quotes:

       “I am nobody’s straw man. I am nobody’s dog.”
        -- Lanny Young, during April 2001 interview, when asked if he served as a secret
front-man for Waste Management when it wanted to build landfills.

     “Harry (Alabama Department of Environmental Management lawyer Harry
Lyles) stated that Waste Management should be upfront and apply for the permit and
not send some agent, such as Mr. Young, to do their bidding for them. Whereupon, Mr.
Campagna expressed that was the way they did permitting and that they now have no
confi dence in ADEM.”
    -- Notes taken by ADEM staff er during a 2002 meeting with Waste Management
offi cial Charles Campagna, after the G.H. Construction stories and with Young’s
credibility shattered.

     On Dec. 1, 1998, the Cherokee County Commission voted to let Waste
Management substantially expand the area from which its, “Three Corners
Landfill” could accept garbage, including well into Georgia. This allowed the
company to vastly increase its profi ts while also slashing the life of the landfill for
county residents.
    As if that wasn’t enough, the commission also consented to the company’s
request to halve its “host fee.” From that point on, Waste Management paid
Cherokee County $1 for every ton of garbage hauled into the site rather than the
$2 in the original contract.
    In return for this double windfall, Waste Management gave the county a few
    Six days after the commission’s inexplicably bone-headed decision, Waste
Management wired $1 million into Lanny Young’s account at Colonial Bank. That
was for the host fee change. Two months later, it shot him another $2 million, for
his persuasive efforts in convincing the county to allow the landfill to take waste
from Georgia and elsewhere.
    Young didn’t accomplish these feats by waving a magic wand. He had inside
help. Cherokee County was largely run by Phillip Jordan. He held the dual titles
of probate judge and county commission chairman and had for 15 years, since his
election at the ripe age of 26.
    Jordan initially worked a deal with Lanny where he would become a secret
part-owner of the landfill, but Young talked him into accepting money instead.
    He pledged to pay Jordan $100,000. Lanny – who shorted everybody, even,
apparently, those he bribed – only gave Jordan about $65,000, the latter testified
years later at the Siegelman trial. The by-then disgraced former judge said Young
gave lesser amounts to two other commissioners.
      Lanny’s initial payments to Jordan were made with cash, amounts from
about $1,000 to $6,000 stuffed in envelopes, and handed over during meetings
in neighboring Etowah County. Then Lanny started paying with checks. Some
were written to non-existent people, others to relatives of Jordan. On at least one,
Young made a notation indicating the money was for cattle and hay.
    Jordan, nervous about the checks for obvious reasons, didn’t want to cash
them locally. He called on an old friend, Paul Thomas, for help. Thomas was the
probate judge of neighboring DeKalb County.
      From 1996 to 1999, Waste Management paid Lanny about $8 million for his
labors in Cherokee County. The largest chunk came first, after Lanny’s company,
Alabama Waste Disposal Solutions, received a permit to build and operate the
landfill. Lanny’s though, never built much less operated the landfill. Instead, he
sold the permit to Waste Management, which built and continues to operate what
is one of Alabama’s busiest landfills.
    His and Waste Management’s next target was Lowndes County, which sits to
the west of Montgomery county. At the Siegelman trial it was revealed that Lanny
gave $10,000 to a close friend of Lowndes County commissioner Charlie King.
As incentive for corruption, it’s hard to top Waste Management’s secret
contracts with Young. Here’s the breakdown of the Lowndes County deal:

$4 million. Amount Waste Management was to pay Lanny after he won the
permit to build and operate the landfi ll, then sold/transferred it to the company.

$500,000. Th is sum would be Lanny’s on the second anniversary of the

$500,000. On the third anniversary.

$1 million. Amount Waste Management was to pay Lanny when the landfill
began receiving an average of 550 tons of garbage per day.

$1 million. When the average climbed to 750 tons.

$1 million. If and when the average reached 1,000 tons a day.

$2 million. Due Lanny if he could convince the Lowndes County commission
to decrease its “host fee” from $2 per ton $1.25.

Total, with incentives: $10 million.

    Waste Management wasn’t just paying for the right to own landfills. It was
also paying for a protective layer between the acts the company had to suspect
Lanny might commit to make his millions and the repercussions should he be
    Plausible deniability. We don’t pay bribes. And if someone else does, we
naturally disapprove.
    It’s worth noting that Waste Management, with its corruption-tainted past,
was by then advertising itself as the “new Waste Management,” as a clean company,
ethically as well as environmentally.


    On June 23, 2004, FBI agents called on Thomas, the DeKalb County judge,
to ask about the checks he’d cashed years before for Jordan. The judge admitted
doing so.
     The next morning Thomas called work to report that he wasn’t feeling well
and wouldn’t be coming in. The next day the state wire ran a story reporting his
death from “a steep fall at his mountaintop home.”
    It read in part:

     Thomas, who turned 60 Wednesday, apparently slipped on a high rock at his Sand
Mountain home and fell about 45 feet to his death, Rainsville Police Chief Roger Byrd
     Officials received an emergency call to Thomas’ home at 12:06 p.m. Th ursday,
and rescue workers recovered his body from the foot of the bluff , Byrd said. Although
offi cials believe Thomas’ death was accidental, DeKalb County District Attorney Mike
O’Dell requested an autopsy.
     By the time the FBI met with Thomas in 2004, Lanny Young was almost a
household name in Alabama. The year before he’d pleaded guilty to bribery and
other crimes involving G.H. Construction and other matters. It was widely known
that he was cooperating in a federal probe of the Siegelman administration.
     Because of the unusual circumstances of Thomas’s death, Alabama Attorney
General Troy King felt compelled to issue a statement declaring it an accident.
     Not that anyone believed that. Most people familiar with the matter think
Thomas jumped to his death. Considering how law enforcement works in such
matters he was probably given the choice between pleading guilty to some lesser
crime or being charged with a felony for aiding Jordan. For insurance and pension
reasons and to spare his family the mess to come Thomas killed himself, correctly
anticipating that it would be offi cially declared an accident.
      That’s innuendo wrapped in speculation but not unfair considering the
circumstances. Nor do I think that it’s unfair to suggest the following:
     With the outrageous incentives it dangled before Lanny, North America’s largest
waste company set in motion the chain of events that led to Thomas’s death.

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