Immigration & Labor

A Fatal Accident Leads to Broader Questions About NYC Trash Hauler’s Operations

MICHAEL SANTIAGO/PROPUBLICA
By day, New York's residential garbage is picked up by municipal workers. But come nightfall, private haulers collect the commercial trash, often working at breakneck speeds with few protections for workers.

This story was originally published by ProPublica.

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Shortly after a wheel came loose from a Century Waste garbage truck in Brooklyn, killing a motorist in an oncoming car, the New York City agency that oversees the private sanitation industry announced it would help the police investigate the crash.

There would seem to be much to investigate, for Century Waste trucks have routinely failed safety inspections in recent years. Federal records show that 65 percent of the company’s 32 trucks subjected to government inspection were pulled off the road for safety violations over the past two years.

But ProPublica has discovered something else the city agency, known as the Business Integrity Commission, could look into as well: Records show that Century Waste’s headquarters sit on land owned by a man the city had run out of New York’s private sanitation industry years ago during a crackdown on mob influence and corruption. The Business Integrity Commission, which oversees New York City’s trash collection industry, bars companies from doing business of any kind with such individuals. In fact, the agency was created with the express purpose of keeping such people out of the garbage industry.

A review of New Jersey corporate and property records show that the man who owns the land through an LLC — an industrial property in Elizabeth, New Jersey — is Frank Savino, who along with other members of his family ran several trash hauling companies in New York City two decades ago. In the late 1990s, as part of a racketeering case brought by the Manhattan district attorney’s office, prosecutors charged Savino with conspiracy to form a monopoly. Savino eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor — criminal facilitation. In order to sell the family companies, he agreed to a lifetime ban from the private trash industry.

The ban, issued in 1998 and formally called a debarment, came with a very specific prohibition for anyone still working in the industry: No garbage company in New York City could do business with Savino.

Century Waste was started in 2005, and is today owned by Marc Savino, Frank’s son. It is not clear if any financial relationship exists between Marc Savino and his father — paying rent for the land, for instance. Frank Savino bought the land in 2001 and then transferred it in 2004 to an LLC that lists him as a principal: Dowd Ave Associates, the owner of the property at 623 Dowd Avenue, Century Waste’s headquarters.

ProPublica sent a list of questions about Century Waste’s operations, including any dealings with Frank Savino, to the company’s spokesman, Ara Chekmayan. He did not address the questions about Marc Savino’s dealings with his father, but issued a statement regarding the fatal Aug. 1 accident in Brooklyn. Efforts to reach Frank Savino in recent days were not successful, and an initial online search did not yield any instances of Frank Savino discussing his lifetime ban or his current association with his son’s trash business.

“Century Waste has always and will continue to take the safety of its employees, customers and the public at large as a primary objective during the course of doing business,” said Chekmayan. “Since 2005, Century Waste Services has been fully licensed, and has dutifully responded to and/or complied with any BIC inquiry.”

ProPublica also asked BIC whether Century Waste operating from land owned by someone on the debarment list was a source of concern.

“This decision was made over a decade ago by a prior administration and all aspects of Century Waste’s operations are under review as part of our investigation,” Dan Brownell, the BIC commissioner, said in a statement. A spokesperson declined to comment further and did not explain what decision the commissioner was referring to. BIC did not respond to questions asking if they had been aware that Frank Savino owned the land, as well as the agency’s general safeguards for assuring that debarred individuals are kept out of the industry.

In the late 1990s, New York City set about cleaning up the private sanitation industry, purging it of the mobsters who’d controlled the lucrative business for four decades. Under this system, each customer was considered the “property” of their carter. An undercover investigation led to sweeping prosecutions and the creation of BIC’s predecessor, the Trade Waste Commission. The targets of prosecutors were many: the Genovese and Gambino crime family members who had enforced a cartel that jacked up prices and carved up the city into territories; the industry associations that policed the territorial lines; and the carting companies that profited from the arrangement. Several trash companies owned by the Savino family secured contracts through a top employee’s friendship with a made member of the Gambino crime family, according to a 2015 BIC document.

Bruce Berger was one of the Manhattan prosecutors who made those cases, and he later went on to run the Solid Waste Commission in Westchester County. Berger said he was surprised to learn that Frank Savino owned the land beneath a trash company licensed in New York City. The Business Integrity Commission has great power, he said, and it has often used it to eliminate business ties between licensed companies and those on the debarment list.

Indeed, BIC’s rules regarding those on the debarment list are very explicit: Companies licensed in New York City “are prohibited, as an agreed condition of licensure, from employing, retaining the services of, or doing business with any person (or any entity employing or retaining the services of such person)” on the list.

“The city required people to sell property or threatened to deny licenses for that,” Berger said of the seeming arrangement involving Century Waste. “I don’t know why they haven’t gotten around to doing it in this case unless this is new information.”

News of this month’s fatality in Brooklyn prompted one client of Century Waste to open its own investigation. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, with close to half a million dollars in contracts with Century Waste, released a statement saying their independent inspector general “will investigate the recent safety record of Century Waste Services, and we will determine whether to keep doing business with the company. In addition, the Inspector General will review the vetting process of Century Waste Services that was undertaken by the Port Authority, and make recommendations as to whether there are any needed changes to our vetting process.”

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About the reporter

Kiera Feldman

Kiera Feldman

Kiera Feldman is a Brooklyn-based investigative reporter and radio producer.