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Insider Tells of How Convicted Company Qualified to Do Business at Port

A man who claims to be a former employee of waste water treatment firm Cliff Berry, Inc. (CBI), has gone public about what happened within the company in the months following its felony conviction for stealing fuel from Miami International Airport.

In a letter to Broward County Commissioner John Rodstrom, the former employee, Charles Wight, describes how the company "scrambled" to give itself a new name -- Everglades Waste Removal Services (EWRS) -- so that it could still qualify for a franchise at Port Everglades, where Cliff Berry is based.

Under Florida law a county can't contract with a company convicted of a felony that involves a public entity. But since Everglades Waste Removal had a new corporate officer -- Cliff Berry, who had retired several years before -- it was considered a new company. For more on this nifty switcheroo, check out the story I wrote in February.

But Wight's note provides a rare, firsthand peek into what appears to be a superficial change. He writes:

Knowing (the felony conviction) would be a major blow to the business, the executive staff of CBI scrambled to plan for the future of the company.

Various pieces of equipment were cleaned up and transferred from CBI ownership to EWRS.

Meetings were held with the employees explaining that CBI could not be in any way be involved with the removal of any waste from Port Everglades.

However, all calls for waste removal at Port Everglades found their way into the operations center at CBI. An elaborate system of paperwork was set-up to ensure CBI would not be linked to EWRS.

The problem however is that EWRS is a very small company with very few employees. Many times, drivers from CBI were recruited to conduct the waste transfer. T-Shirts were purchased (with CBI funds) with the EWRS logo and drivers were told to remove all CBI identification and only wear EWRS clothing when doing these particular assignments. Several of the drivers maintained 2 Port Identification cards (one indicating CBI as the employer and one indicating EWRS as the employer). Henry Buchholtz, former Transportation Manager for CBI is one of those employees.

Kathy Dalton, (Cliff Berry Sr.'s personal assistant) runs the everyday operation and scheduling of EWRS activities, however she is (was?) on the CBI payroll as EWRS does not have enough employees to maintain a health care program.
Early in June, CBI conducted a "company-wide re-structuring" resulting in the loss of many positions. CBI indicated that the positions were "no longer necessary" but it appeared many were let go based on the recommendation of the company's "part-time" Chief Financial Officer - Mr. Ira Nassi.

CBI actually determined that the position of "Safety Director" was not needed. Employees having less than 1 year service were kept while employees having in excess of 10-years were let go.

Wight suggests that the company may be in violation of the court order stemming from the fuel theft case. While acknowledging a possible case of "sour grapes" he asks the county to investigate the company to see whether Everglades Waste Removal is qualified to work at Port Everglades through franchises that were approved in May 2007 and September 2008.

Perhaps CBI has amended their ways," Wight continues. "Then again, as a former employee with intimate knowledge on the inner workings of the organization, I think not."

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Thomas Francis

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