At a recent black-tie, $375-a-plate dinner, a major Bronx economic development agency honored the head of a garbage firm that has been accused of bribery and fined millions for environmental violations.
At the October benefit in a swanky midtown hotel, the South Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation (SOBRO) presented John Drury, CEO of Waste Management Inc., with its Corporate Business Award. Drury got the honor because WMI has pledged to contract truckers from SOBRO’s job-training program, the Harlem River Transport Company, which helps local residents get commercial drivers’ licenses.
WMI recently won two city garbage contracts worth $219 million and is a prime candidate for the lucrative long-term garbage export deals now being awarded by the city sanitation department. But WMI has a dirty past. Between 1980 and 1990, the company was slapped with more than 600 citations for pollution violations, for which it paid $45 million.
Officials at the company also have been investigated by the FBI in Texas and have been accused of bribing public officials in at least three other states. According to one investigation by the San Diego District Attorney’s office, WMI “engages in practices designed to gain influence over our government officials…for its own business ends.”
At this event, Bronx Congressman Jose Serrano and Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer were listed as honorary co-chairs. That worried local community groups, even though neither politician showed up.
“For me to know that Serrano is rubbing elbows together with Drury really disgusts me,” says Bruce Burgos of Mothers on the Move, which protested the event. Ferrer’s press office denied that the BP was in bed with WMI, calling the accusation “nonsensical.” Serrano’s office did not return calls.
SOBRO president Phillip Morrow defends the garbage giant’s presence in the Bronx. “I think that garbage itself is not a pollutant,” he says. “We’re not burning garbage–it’s all compacted and shipped out. I don’t see much difference between that and garbage trucks going up and down a neighborhood street.” Morrow also praises WMI for helping to oust the mob from the garbage industry. “They’re a $13-billion company,” he points out. “They have to be responsible corporate citizens.”