Monday, October 12, 2009

Bob Fenwick, Peter van der Linde, and RICO

In the race for City Council, it sounds as though Bob Fenwick may be getting some traction from his opposition to the RSWA lawsuit against Peter van der Linde's waste removal business. In last week's Hook, (here), Dave McNair reports on Fenwick's criticism of the suit, which he expressed at a candidate forum held by the Free Enterprise Forum at Burley.

According to McNair, Fenwick took aim at Dave Norris for his refusal to comment on the suit, and he also argued that spending bunches of taxpayer dollars to pursue van der Linde is bad public policy.

Prior to this story, the primary thing I'd heard about Fenwick's campaign was that he holds weekly discussions at the Free Speech wall. I think it's great he's using the wall as a place to talk politics/civics. I'm disappointed that the wall is so hard to write on -- the big chalk and rough surface combine to make everything look smudged and messy, and if there are people writing interesting things on the wall, I'm missing them. Perhaps Fenwick's talks will start a trend of political discussions down there?

McNair's piece gave me the impetus to try to understand the RSWA lawsuit, which the Hook, C-Ville and DP have all covered (to one extent or another), but the details of which have eluded me.

Based on my review of the articles, my understanding is this:

The RSWA alleges that van der Linde's drivers, at his instruction, lied to BFI employees about the origin of trash loads that they brought to the RSWA facility at Zion Crossroads (RSWA had contracted with BFI to serve as facility managers) . The RSWA specifically alleges that the drivers claimed that trash originating in Albemarle County had originated elsewhere, which enabled them to avoid a $16 "service contibution fee."

One of the key witnesses is a former van der Linde employee named Richard Kendrick, who claims the drivers were instructed to lie; Kendrick, however, is himself accused of attempted extortion against van der Linde (!).

Is BFI one of the waste removal companies that were the subject of allegations of commercial misconduct in the past several years?

If I understand the lawsuit correctly, the RSWA alleges that the unpaid $16 fees accumulated -- over the course of a couple of years -- to millions of dollars improperly withheld from RSWA. At a hearing in Charlottesville Circuit Court in July, there was considerable back and forth about missing receipts and whether or not a forensic review of van der Linde's computer system would enable the RSWA to assemble evidence of the alleged fraud.

Van der Linde disputes the RSWA allegations. He also says that BFI stopped asking about his trucks' origins. That sounds like a fascinating twist to the story (is BFI involved in the litigation? is anyone (RSWA or van der Linde) bringing a counterclaim against BFI?)).

The strange part of the story -- and the part that has raised not only Fenwick's ire but also less vocal criticism from Kristin Szakos, according to McNair's recent story -- is that this summer the RSWA amended its complaint to bring its claims under the federal RICO statute (!!).

I have not yet found a clear explanation of the legal rationale for RSWA relying on RICO for its claim against van der Linde, but I assume they posit a large-scale, business-related conspiracy being perpetrated by van der Linde and his employees, as opposed to just a failure to pay bills.

It does sound extreme, though -- RICO triggers mental images of gangsters and the mob. I assume this is part of the reason Fenwick's critique may ring true for some voters -- it seems to me to be incumbent on the County/City/RSWA to articulate more clearly the reasons for the aggressive position the RSWA is taking against van der Linde.

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