Local News

Thursday, Nov 29 2012 03:03 PM

Sanitation businessman receives felony probation for fraud

By THE BAKERSFIELD CALIFORNIAN

A former sanitation business owner was sentenced to three years' felony probation Wednesday for lying about the source of trash his company dumped in Kern County landfills to avoid paying millions in fees.

Paul M. Benz of Benz Sanitation was ordered in late September to pay a $2.375 million fine as part of a plea agreement with the office of California Attorney General Kamala Harris. He pleaded guilty to accepting residential and commercial trash from nearly 1,500 residents and businesses in Los Angeles County and then falsifying records to show the trash came from Kern County.

Law enforcement officials have said Benz avoided paying dumping fees to either Kern or Los Angeles counties through the scheme. He dumped the trash in a county landfill in Tehachapi.

Benz's fraud came to light after the city of Ridgecrest canceled its trash hauling contract with Benz Sanitation and immediately experienced a 40 percent reduction in trash hauled to the landfill, according to Kern County Superior Court records. Ridgecrest police began an investigation into the business.

Surveillance of Benz Sanitation's trash-sorting center in Tehachapi showed that all of the trash leaving the facility went to the Tehachapi landfill, the records say. Anyone who dumps out-of-county trash, or commercial refuse from Kern, in a Kern County landfill must pay a $42.25 per ton "tipping" fee.

An attorney general's office news release said Benz shorted Kern County nearly $2 million.

In addition to payment, the plea deal requires GPS trackers on all Benz Sanitation vehicles, and county officials will randomly audit the company's records, review weight tickets in the company's scale house, and bar code all vehicles by route. Also, Benz had to leave the company he started in 1974.

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