A plea agreement was announced on Thursday for the owner of a garbage collection company that illegally dumped Los Angeles County garbage in a Kern County landfill.
Paul Michael Benz, 68, owner and operator of Benz Sanitation, pled guilty today in Kern County Superior Court to one felony charge of presenting a fraudulent claim for payment to the government. As part of the plea agreement, Benz will pay nearly $2.4 million in restitution, and take other actions to prevent illegal conduct in the future.
Between January 2008 and September 2012, Benz Sanitation had a waste removal services contract with Kern County that allowed it to take Kern County’s residential garbage and deposit it at local landfills at no charge. During this time, Benz Sanitation also contracted with almost 1,500 residents and businesses in Los Angeles County to remove their residential and commercial garbage. Benz then manipulated these contracts by fraudulently mislabeling the Los Angeles County garbage as originating in Kern County so that he could dump it free of charge in Kern County’s landfills.
Benz Sanitation’s dumping practices were first questioned when deposits in the local Kern County landfill dropped dramatically after the City of Ridgecrest ended its contract with Benz and hired a new garbage collection company. Further investigation revealed that Benz Sanitation was hauling garbage from Los Angeles County to the Material Recovery Facility in Kern County and falsely reporting that the garbage had originated in Kern County, defrauding the county of approximately $2 million.
As a result of today’s plea agreement, Benz is required to leave the company and pay $2,375,000 in restitution.
He will also be placed on felony probation.
To prevent future illegal conduct, Benz Sanitation will place GPS trackers on all vehicles to provide location data to Kern County. County officials will randomly audit the company’s records, will review weight tickets in the company’s scale house, and barcode all vehicles by route.
The California Attorney General’s Office was initially asked to look into CalRecycle’s concerns about violations of statewide disposal reporting in Kern County. The office then coordinated with local law enforcement agencies during the investigation of Benz and his company.