Hollywood Sludge, Revisited
Arnold Goldman conducts some business on his cell phone. "Jorge, are you going to the site... Where are you?... Tell Robert that the repair man will be there tomorrow... mañana, not today, tomorrow, comprende?... No... tomorrow... mañana... not today... tomorrow... repair."
Goldman pauses and explains to me: "It's difficult to talk to a guy who doesn't speak English."
The language barrier, unfortunately, is the least of his problems when it comes to hauling Hollywood's sewage. The 63-year-old Goldman, who is in charge of dumping about 600,000 tons of the city's treated excrement during the next five years, readily admits that he has no experience in the trucking business. His only credential seems to be that he's Hollywood Commissioner Keith Wasserstrom's uncle. The Broward State Attorney's Office has been investigating the Hollywood sewage situation, including the role of Wasserstrom and Goldman, for the past nine months.
But for Goldman, who is paid for his work by a city subcontractor called Bionative Technologies, the investigation seems only a minor distraction. He has a lot of treated sewage to move, after all, and he's currently directing the stuff to a piece of land on Zipperer Farms in Hendry County. The problem is that the owner said last week that he didn't know his property was a dumping ground for treated Hollywood sludge. He says he leased a small parcel to Bionative for use as a sod farm, not a dump.
"I'd been suspicious for some time that some people weren't being honest with me," Douglas Zipperer told me last week. "They are the licensed hauler for the City of Hollywood? That land is leased strictly for agricultural use, and if it's not being used for that, it will be shut down immediately and there will be a lot of people who will have problems with me, up to the City of Hollywood."
Call it a potential headache. And that's just the beginning. In January, Goldman contracted with the city's long-time sewage hauler, a small Miami-Dade business called DX5 Inc. After an angry dispute over price, Bionative Technologies terminated the contract with DX5, which is owned by a husband-and-wife team, Mario and Maria Delgado. Earlier this month, the Delgados accused Bionative of failing to pay $18,000 they are owed.
"They don't know anything about trucking," says Maria Delgado, whose company hauled waste for the city for five years without incident before Goldman entered the picture. "It's going to be a disaster."
Delgado lays most of the blame on Goldman's boss, Larry Tatanka Wakinyan, a buffalo farmer from Oregon who owns Bionative. You might remember Wakinyan as a leading figure in the ongoing Hollywood sewage scandal. He came to Hollywood in 2003 and met with Goldman's nephew, Wasserstrom, to broker a deal between the city and a large sewage firm called Schwing Bioset for a $27 million treatment plant.
Wakinyan apparently won Wasserstrom's undying support after he helped get the commissioner and his uncle jobs with parties involved in the deal. The commissioner promoted the deal and introduced Wakinyan to the city's public works administrator, Whit Van Cott, who also became a huge fan of Schwing Bioset.
Van Cott and Wasserstrom, you might remember, pushed for Schwing Bioset even though a committee of experts recommended hiring another company for about $15 million less. At Wasserstrom's urging, the commission voted to begin negotiations with Schwing Bioset on March 17, 2004. The commissioner abstained from the vote after acknowledging that his uncle was financially connected to the firm. He neglected, however, to mention that he too stood to profit as legal counsel for his uncle and as a lobbyist for Schwing Bioset before other municipalities.
After New Times broke the story of the financial connections among Wasserstrom, Wakinyan, and Goldman, Broward State Attorney Michael Satz's office began a criminal investigation of Wasserstrom and Van Cott. But don't expect indictments from Satz -- he's simply the caretaker of corruption in Broward County. His office is where cases go to die slow deaths. The special investigations unit has been sitting on the Wasserstrom probe for months. But don't worry -- they're still investigating, Satz spokesman Ron Ishoy says.
So why was Wakinyan, a Native American who had no previous experience in the sewage business, involved in the first place? Well, he was supposed to broker a deal with the Seminole Tribe of Florida to dump the sewage on Indian land. Van Cott and Wasserstrom both made passionate arguments in favor of the deal. "We have the Seminoles who are very excited about how this is going to improve the environment and improve dirt," Wasserstrom said during a March 2004 City Commission meeting. Then he talked of how much the tribe disliked pollution caused by dumping raw sewage. "Driving raw sludge through our streets -- it's crazy that is going on right now. As Native Americans, that pains them immensely, and I've heard their pain."
The problem: Wakinyan never sealed the deal with the Seminole Tribe. After I reported that fact, Wakinyan continued his charade. He even had Scott Marder, his lobbyist from the high-powered Ruden McCloskey law firm, wave around a folder during a July 2004 City Commission meeting that he claimed contained the contract with the Seminoles.
Van Cott, the city's public works administrator, also assured the city that the Seminoles were on board during that circus-like meeting, and the commission voted for Schwing Bioset a second time. But it was all a crock. The Seminole Tribe ultimately spurned Wakinyan and the city, saying the treated sludge wouldn't be good for their land, which happens to be smack-dab in the middle of the Everglades.
So Wakinyan had to scramble to find another place to dump the stuff and came up with his sod farm at Zipperer Farms. But the buffalo farmer isn't here to run the operation.
"[Wakinyan] has Arnold Goldman here working as his do-boy, or whatever you want to call him," Delgado explains. "Goldman is out at the site or out at the plant telling everybody what to do while Larry is in Oregon with his buffalo."
Delgado says her husband, Mario, had to explain the basics of the business to Goldman, including insurance requirements and the need for a concrete dumping pad on the Zipperer land. Within weeks, Delgado says, Wakinyan tried to shortchange her company. While she says the fair price for transporting the sludge was $9 per ton (or about $40,000 a month), Wakinyan insisted that he would pay $6.95. When they disagreed, she says he would yell at her, call her a liar, and hang up the phone.
"He's insensitive and spiteful," she says of Wakinyan. "Wakinyan is only out to squeeze as much money from this as he can. He just cares about himself and making all kinds of money. He doesn't care about anybody."
When I reached Wakinyan on his cell phone, I asked him about the dumping on Zipperer Farms. "First of all, we're not dumping anything there," he said. "It's being staged at our sod farm operation."
Interesting distinction. I wanted to ask him if it wasn't tough keeping up with buffalo, sod, and sludge all at the same time, but he really started to bristle. "What business is this of yours?" he asked. "You just want to stir things up."
As I tried to chill him out a little, he hung up on me.
Goldman, a salesman by trade who splits his time between Boca Raton and Miami Beach, says his lack of trucking experience is no problem. "You just move things from point A to point B," he says. "And there has been nothing improper done." He clarifies that Wasserstrom is really his former nephew, since he's no longer married to the commissioner's aunt. Goldman also says Wasserstrom simply introduced him to Wakinyan and didn't actually get him his job. As for his hiring of Wasserstrom to represent him in the Bionative Technologies deal, he admits, "I use [Wasserstrom] for legal things every once in a while. Is that a business relationship?"
Well, um, yes it is. And it's absolutely obscene. The sewage scandal in Hollywood has become a veritable poster child for corruption in Broward County. It illustrates why South Florida has a bad name throughout the country. The elected officials are either in on the deal or clueless. The State Attorney's Office under Satz is inept and impotent. The populace either doesn't care or is powerless to do anything to stop it.
And the stink just won't go away.
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