Updated news on the Gambino, Genovese, Bonanno, Lucchese and Colombo Organized Crime Families of New York City.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

NY Mafia Back? Officials Puzzled By Missing Appliances

Sunset over Lower Manhattan, New York City

Over the last several months, , 22,741 New Yorkers contacted the city’s Department of Sanitation and arranged for the pickup of refrigerators, air-conditioners and freezers. In more than 11,000 instances, the machines vanished before sanitation workers arrived in their white trucks to pick them up.
Who, then, is stealing the household appliances of New York City?
Perhaps it is not the most pressing question facing city authorities, but it is something of a mystery nonetheless. The appliances did not develop legs and walk away, and they did not simply disappear.
Scavengers, to be sure, abound in New York, especially during tough economic times. But the sheer magnitude of the thefts — 11,528 appliances, to be precise — over a relatively brief period suggests to some in city government and the recycling industry that a more organized enterprise may be at work as well.
Deepening the mystery, these were neither the latest Sub Zero behemoths, sleek Bosch nor stylish retro Smeg refrigerators. They were garbage, quite literally — discarded appliances left at the curb for pickup by the Sanitation Department.
And while the value of one discarded appliance may seem marginal at best, in the scrap industry, the fluctuations of commodity prices and volume add up to real money.
Indeed, the big loser in what might be called New York’s Appliances Caper appears to be a multinational recycling conglomerate, a subsidiary of which has a large city contract to recycle the hundreds of thousands of tons of metal, glass and plastic generated each year by New Yorkers, including bulk metal, like appliances.
The subsidiary, Sims Municipal Recycling of New York L.L.C., estimates that the thefts, along with schemes involving redeemable bottles, are costing the company $2 million to $4 million a year.
Behind those losses, some in the industry — by some accounts an $85 billion annual business — see the hand of organized crime, although no one can point to hard evidence. New York’s enduring and resourceful mob families have long played a role in both the recycling and scrap industries and have a knack for turning up where the money is.
The mob’s longstanding involvement in the scrap industry, which had diminished a decade ago, has seen something of a resurgence in the last three years, said George Khouzami, the coordinating supervisor for the organized crime branch in the New York office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
At the same time, the urban hunter-gatherer is far from a new, or rare, phenomenon, and scavenging in New York is quite likely as old as the municipality itself, where the wealthy have a way of leaving a bountiful trail of usable, if not salable, detritus in their wake. And as the economy has deteriorated, more and more people — not just the homeless — tend to look to scavenging to make a few extra dollars.
“It’s not just the individual entrepreneur anymore; it’s now organized entrepreneurs,” said Robert Lange, the director of the Sanitation Department’s Bureau of Waste Prevention, Reuse and Recycling, which negotiated the contract with Sims.
While it was only in July that the department began keeping records on the number of appliances that disappeared from curbside, Sims began feeling the bite a little more than two years ago, said the general manager of the company’s municipal recycling division, Thomas Outerbridge. That was shortly after the company, which had been handling the city’s metal, glass and plastic recyclables since 2002, signed its current 23-year contract, worth roughly $1.5 billion. Mr. Outerbridge said the company began to see a significant drop-off in the volume of materials the Sanitation Department was picking up and dropping off at its two facilities.
With seasonal fluctuations, the department’s recycling trucks had been delivering roughly 20,000 tons of plastic, glass and metal each month to Sims’s sorting facilities. But the company has seen that decline by 1,000 to 1,500 tons a month.
“Whether it’s attributed to scavenging activity, an individual is rarely going to go out and pick up bulky metal,” Mr. Outerbridge said. “That’s not a guy with a stick over his shoulder and a bag of cans.”
To track thefts, sanitation officials used online requests and calls to the city’s 311 hot line for the agency to remove chlorofluorocarbons from refrigerators, freezers, air-conditioners, water coolers and dehumidifiers. The removal of the toxic gas is required by Environmental Protection Agency regulations, and specially trained sanitation crews respond to the requests, draw the materials out of the appliances and leave them for removal by the department’s regular recycling pickup.
A task force in the Department of Sanitation Police that focuses on crimes like illegal dumping and the thefts of recyclables has also seen a significant increase in activity on the streets, where it plays cat and mouse with a constant stream of determined thieves, said Inspector Robert D’Angelo, who leads the task force.
Driving vehicles ranging from personal cars and rented trucks to vans that look as if they themselves are a tank of gas away from the scrapyard, thieves who live by the Sanitation Department’s recycling pickup schedules, listed on the agency’s Web site, cruise the city’s streets the night before the big white trucks make their rounds.
In response, the officers have stepped up their enforcement, Inspector D’Angelo said, and while the theft of curbside recyclables warrants only a summons, the sanitation officers impound the vehicles and their cargo — frequently a jumbled load of refrigerators, air-conditioners, Venetian blinds, office partitions and stoves.
This year through Dec. 1, the task force has seized more than 270 vehicles, according to records provided by the department. But the small force does not have the staffing or resources either to track the thieves to the scrapyards where they sell their haul or to determine whether there are connections among any of the people.
But on most nights, the officers move through the city neighborhoods in small teams, working in plain clothes and unmarked cars, circling block after block in the areas they know provide good hunting for their targets, lying in wait and then pouncing, with lights and sirens, when they see someone remove material from curbside, which under law belongs to the city.
On a recent night in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, they grabbed a man driving a ragged Dodge van packed with scrap — what looked like the contents of two messy garages crammed into the back of a dilapidated van with Pennsylvania plates.
The driver, a squat bedraggled-looking man in jeans and a blue shirt with a blue bandana covering his head, stood looking defeated as the two officers, Michael Bristol and Ed Burke, surveyed the van and its contents.
“This guy has been out here before,” said Officer Burke, nodding his head towards the open back doors of the van and adding, “It’s a nice load.”



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