Cheboygan Daily Tribune, July 27, 1993
Newspapers statewide have been filled for several months with reports of mob activity and political chicanery in the Michigan trash business. Particularly riveting stories have come from Warren, where in 1991 the city's former trash hauler, Oakland Disposal, Inc., after its equipment was vandalized and its transfer station was firebombed, was replaced through a no-bid $16 million city contract with Warren Waste Transfer, a company established only a few weeks earlier, supposedly by Quirino D'Alessandro, a crony of Mayor Ronald Bonkowski.
In fact, D'Alessandro, who has been indicted on federal fraud charges as part of a continuing investigation of illegal gambling and money laundering and whose $1.5 million house has been seized by the Secret Service, was fronting for trash baron Anthony Soave, who, it turns out, owns Warren Waste Transfer. The confessed Oakland Disposal arsonist, small-time hood John Pree, now testifies that he and his accomplice, Carlo Bommarito, got the order to vandalize Oakland Disposal's equipment and firebomb its transfer station from Detroit mob boss Vito Giacalone. Pree, Bommarito and Bommarito's father, Francesco, a longtime Giacalone associate, have been charged with arson and conspiracy.*
Although Soave has had previous links to Detroit mob figures (including an early 1970s partnership with Frank Mudaro, described in 1963 U.S. Senate hearings as a section leader in the Detroit Mafia; earlier, Mudaro had been a business partner of William "Black Bill" Tocco, one of the five ruling dons of the Detroit Mafia), Soave's underlings dismiss Pree's sworn testimony as ludicrous. However, Soave clearly has profited from the demise of Oakland Disposal. In addition to his Warren contracts, Soave has acquired other trash-related businesses from Oakland Disposal's former owners, brothers John and Robert Runco, and City Management is currently trying to get permits to reopen Oakland Disposal's former landfill in Waterford Township.
But, we need not go to the Detroit metropolitan area to observe the questionable dealings of Anthony Soave. In late 1991 Soave's City Management Corp. acquired for $3.8 million a landfill jointly owned by Crawford and Otsego Counties, although another bidder had offered about 50 percent more (and a 50 percent larger environmental clean-up fund). The deal was worked out by the landfill authority's lawyer, James Cotant, who, interestingly, had been a high-school classmate of Soave's director of landfill operations, Paul Sgriccia. Not coincidentally, Soave simultaneously paid $800,000 for the local trash-hauling business of Robert McLachlan, then-chairman of the Crawford County Board of Commissioners responsible for negotiating the landfill sale on behalf of the counties; McLachlan and his son were also given long-term employment contracts by City Management.
Prior to its acquisition by Soave, the Crawford-Otsego landfill had accumulated about $1 million in fines levied by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources for violation of environmental laws. Shortly after Soave's purchase, representatives of City Management, the DNR and the Attorney Generalmet in the Lansing office of Senator John Pridnia (R-Hubbard Lake) and, under the watchful eye of Pridnia aide Mark Knudsen, negotiated the waiver of all but $200,000 of these fines (with the understanding that this $200,000 would not be paid to the state but would instead be spent on recycling in Crawford and Otsego counties; much of the expenditure to date has been for capital equipment). To meet in a legislator's office and to include a legislative staff member in the negotiations was unprecedented, but a DNR officer's objections were overruled. Perhaps not surprisingly, Pridnia has been the beneficiary of the financial largess of Soave's political action committee, City PAC.
After heading Michigan's unsuccessful search for a site for a low-level radioactive waste dump to serve a compact of midwest states, in 1991 James Cleary returned to the DNR as deputy director, in charge of solid waste regulation. When Crawford County Commissioner Joe Callewaert objected to the behind-the-scenes circumstances under which Soave's City Management had acquired the Crawford-Otsego landfill, Cleary asked for Callewaert's documentation, received it, and promised "a complete and thorough investigation." Less than five months later Cleary had accepted the Pridnia-negotiated waiver of fines on the landfill, taken early retirement from the DNR and joined Soave as a City Management officer (a position for which Pridnia claims to have recommended him). Perhaps not surprisingly, nothing was heard of Cleary's promised investigation.
Supposedly, there was to be no conflict between Cleary's new position with City Management and his previous role as deputy director of Michigan's DNR because Cleary would be working for City Management's Florida subsidiary, Universal Waste and Transit. However, answering an early 1993 call to Universal Waste's Tampa headquarters, the receptionist initially didn't even know who Cleary was and ultimately advised the caller to contact Cleary at City Management's Detroit headquarters. About the same time, a Lansing lobbyist for the solid waste industry observed that Cleary was regularly in Michigan and was "invaluable to the industry because of his influence" over his former DNR colleagues.
Soave's political affairs are handled by the ex-mayor of Flint, James Sharp, hired by Soave on the advice of the former speaker of the state House of Representatives, Gary Owen (D-Ypsilanti), who recommended Sharp as "a minority that could work in local government in the Detroit area." Reflecting the northern expansion of City Management's interests, Soave recently retained the lobbying services of former state Senator Mitch Irwin (D-Sault Ste. Marie). After the Alpena County Commission rejected a reciprocal solid-waste agreement proposed Crawford County which would have been of obvious benefit to City Management, Irwin called individual Alpena commissioners to chastise them for not granting carte blanche approval of City Management's participation in Alpena County's legally-required 20-year solid waste plan.
Probing the malodorous underbelly of trash, criminal and political, one does, certainly, discover interesting bedfellows.