Benz pleads guilty to criminal charges

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Benz pleads guilty to criminal chargesA brief statement Thursday morning from Ridgecrest City Attorney Keith Lemieux confirmed that Paul Benz, owner of the city’s former waste and recycling hauler Benz Sanitation, pleaded guilty to criminal charges during his arraignment in Kern County Superior Court.

He will serve three years of felony probation, pay a $1.8-million settlement to the county and pay $575,000 to the city.

Benz also dropped the $63-million claim he had been pursuing against Ridgecrest in civil arbitration.

Although many of the details of the case have not been released, the charges stem from an accusation that Benz falsified the numbers he reported to the county about how much waste and recycling he was depositing in county landfills.

Ridgecrest Police Department began working with the California Department of Justice to investigate Benz after a glaring discrepancy was discovered between the numbers reported by Benz and current hauler Waste Management. That reportedly led to evidence that Benz, as early as 2006, had begun processing out-of-county trash at his Tehachapi plant, and disposing of the waste in county landfills.

The cost for the added volume from Los Angeles County trash is believed to have been absorbed by the county and was in turn passed along to residents.

“Obviously I’m very pleased with the results and I’m proud of our city police,” said Lemieux.

He said that the city’s share of the settlement was due immediately and that it represents the cost of the investigation, most of the legal fees and the unpaid franchise fees owed to the city, the latter of which was part of the city’s own civil claim.

“We would have had to spend more money on the city process to determine the exact amount owed, but I think this is a reasonable amount,” said Lemieux.

He said the most important thing was the quality investigation conducted by RPD. “This was a very complicated case requiring specialized fields of expertise – and they rose to the occasion. This was a slam dunk because of the great job they did gathering evidence — it gave Benz no other option than the guilty plea.”

Lemieux said that he is relieved to see the years-long dispute between the city and its former vendor finally resolved. He added that this also puts an end to the thousands per month in legal fees it was costing the city to move the case forward.

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Story First Published: 2012-10-03