Adam White said he was surprised when he learned James Little, a worker at the Columbia Landfill, had been arrested.
“We were all surprised, to say the least,” White said. “We all had really good relationships with Mr. Little. He was a nice guy by all accounts. It was a surprising development, to say the least.”
Columbia police arrested Little after learning he had been taking bribes ranging from $1,000 to $3,000 from David Holliday Jr. and David Holliday Sr., owners of AAA Waste Management, in exchange for him faking records of how much waste the company dumped. Little either manually entered the weights of the trucks to appear lighter than what they were, causing the city to charge AAA Waste Management less than what they actually owed, or waved the trucks through without stopping at the scale house first. Little told police that the scheme took place from April 2012 to the summer of 2016.
The city charges people dumping material at the landfill based on weight. A truck must weigh itself on the way in at a scale house, then weigh itself on the way out, creating a “ticket.” Solid Waste charges haulers based on the difference at a rate of $55 a ton.
City staff estimated that AAA Waste Management got away with dumping $241,682.30 worth of trash without paying the city and that the company owes an additional $12,921.01 in Department of Natural Resources fees for landfill management.
“I think it was just a matter of you have to really know what you’re looking for,” White said when asked if the city wasn’t prepared to catch such a scheme. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way when it comes to a lot of criminal activity. Now that we have gone through the process, we are better equipped than we were historically just because we know of one potential way that a crime could try to be perpetrated.
“It’s still a really hard process to go through and see the different ways people might try to dupe you,” White said.
The Hollidays pleaded guilty to receiving stolen property Feb. 28, two years after prosecutors charged them. Despite the city estimating that it lost more than $240,000, Judge Jeff Harris ordered on March 19 that they pay the city $151,517.39, limiting the restitution to the timeframe prosecutors identified – March 2014 to June 2016. Harris also sentenced them to five years of supervised probation.
Advanced Disposal bought their company in 2017.
Little pleaded guilty March 4, receiving a five-year probation stint. Judge Jodie Asel has not yet decided if Little will be required to help pay the restitution, but assistant prosecutor Merilee Crockett filed a proposed order to include Little in the payment.
Kevin O’Brien, attorney for the Hollidays, did not respond to a request for comment Friday.
White said the city first became aware of the scheme when the city’s internal auditor asked for Solid Waste employees to pull data from the scale house. A letter sent to the DNR from Steve Hunt, the Solid Waste Utility Manager, shows that prior to April 2012, AAA Waste Management averaged 68 tickets a month. During the scheme, the company received an average of 55 tickets a month. After Little’s arrest, the average went back up to 75 tickets a month.
Hunt estimated that 1,076 trucks from AAA Waste Management were allowed to dump trash either without paying or paying a lesser amount than required during the scheme.
White said supervisors at the Columbia Landfill now do “spot checks” of surveillance video and scale house records. The worker must explain why they entered a truck’s weight manually. Random review of videos and tickets will ensure that the records match up, White said. The city also installed two surveillance cameras around the scale house to better capture the truck’s license plate.