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ZURIK: Nearly $1 million paid to Kenner trash contractor without required documentation

Zurik Investigation: Talking Trash Pt. 1
Zurik Investigation: Talking Trash Pt. 1
Published: Feb. 17, 2022 at 11:08 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The City of Kenner paid nearly $5.5 million to waste provider IV Waste in 2021, but FOX 8 uncovered stacks of records that raise questions about whether the city is being overcharged.

IV Waste operates a drop-off site for Kenner residents to drive up with debris and trash. Last year, the company billed Kenner $550,000 for collecting and hauling debris dropped off at that site. IV bills Kenner $350 each time residents fill up a 30-yard roll-off container, similar to one you might see in front of a home being renovated.

IV submits monthly invoices to Kenner, including a log of each time a container is emptied as well as a more detailed account of each individual charge. The detailed account includes a work order with a receipt from the landfill to prove that garbage was delivered to the dump.

Our review of invoices sent to Kenner, along with more than two weeks of undercover surveillance raised questions about Kenner’s checks and balances, and whether the city is paying more than it should.

On November 13, 2021, The ticket from the landfill suggests trash came from the Jung Hotel on Canal St. in New Orleans. That cost Kenner residents $350.

On November 12, 2021, 14 separate charges, for which IV charged Kenner nearly $4,900, essentially claiming residents filled up 14 of the containers in one day.

To access the drop-off site, residents must sign in and show proof of Kenner residency. FOX 8 checked the sign-in sheets from that day and found only 12 residents visited the site all day. That means IV essentially claimed each of the residents brought enough trash to fill up more than one 30-yard roll-off container. FOX 8 called a few of the residents who signed in that day. Each person said they dropped off trash and debris with a pick-up truck or small trailer. While IV billed for 14 containers, Kenner only has the required backup documentation for two, so FOX 8 has no proof that more than two containers were dumped at the landfill.

On October 11, 2021, IV billed Kenner for 34 containers, claiming the 30-yard roll-offs were dumped 34 times. Yet, Kenner doesn’t have documentation to prove those 34 containers were dumped from the trash drop-off site.

FOX 8 compared all the billings from the drop-off site and the adjacent Kenner yard to detailed receipts and found charges for $325,000, that were not accounted for in the backup invoices. However, documents show the City of Kenner approved the invoices and paid the bill without asking questions.

On Jan. 16, 2022, FOX 8 set up an undercover camera near the drop site. The video footage shows the vehicles of the eight Kenner residents who signed into the dump to drop off trash. Most came in small trucks or trailers. However, on that same day, IV was billed for dumping 6 different 30-yard roll-offs. Industry experts told FOX 8 it would be nearly impossible for the eight drivers to fill up six of the large containers.

“This is unacceptable,” said Tulane Law Professor Joel Friedman. “Why aren’t they more accountable?”

FOX 8 sent IV Waste a lengthy email, detailing the findings in this story. The company declined an on-camera interview, but said in a statement:

“Kenner approved all work pursuant to the contract and the emergency orders necessitated by Hurricane Ida. If there are clerical mistakes by IV Waste or by Kenner, there are true-up mechanisms in place to correct them.”

IV told FOX 8 in a follow-up letter that IV, “anticipates that this story will reflect the fact that iv waste has not cheated Kenner in any way but rather has provided Kenner with excellent service at a cost comparable if not less expensive than its predecessor provider.”

Friedman says Kenner bears the blame if invoices weren’t checked properly. The person who had been in charge of review and oversight of the invoices was Deputy Chief Administrative Office Chad Pitfield.

Pitfield has also been the subject of previous FOX 8 investigations, after being paid $86,000 in disaster pay in the months after Hurricane Ida. FOX 8 found he may have double-dipped, working for the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office and Kenner at the same time. Kenner terminated Pitfield’s employment on Wednesday.

The City of Kenner is currently involved in a lawsuit with its former garbage collector Ramelli Waste. In video depositions from that lawsuit, Kenner officials said Pitfield oversaw the invoices and the IV Waste contract.

In fact, in the initial draft of the IV contract, the Director of Public Works had oversight of IV’s work, but by the time the contract was signed, that changed, and the Chief Administrative Officer or her designee was giving oversight. Kenner reworked the contract to allow Pitfield to have oversight. Sources tell FOX 8 while Pitfield was working for Kenner, he set up IV Waste’s Instagram account and posted on behalf of IV Waste to that account. He also reportedly has an IV Waste email address.

FOX 8 asked Friedman if Pitfield should be approving IV invoices for Kenner while having an IV Waste email address.

“Of course not,” said Friedman. “Why would you have an email address? Companies don’t give their own email addresses to people unless they’re employees or are in some other way affiliated with the company.”

IV Waste claims Pitfield never worked for them. The statement provided to FOX 8 by IV waste said, “At no time did IV Waste ever pay Chad Pitfield to manage any social media account on its behalf or to work for IV Waste in any capacity.”

“If he has a relationship with IV, that fact alone creates a conflict of interest in any normal operation, let alone a public one funded by taxpayers, the person with a linkage to a company would never be the person in charge of paying funding to that company,” said Friedman.

After Hurricane Ida, Kenner activated an additional section of the contract for special collection following a disaster. It calls for IV to be paid $61.17 per ton to pick up bagged organic matter. IV billed Kenner over $406,000 for 6,638 tons of trash. For at least 10 days FOX 8 asked Kenner for back-up documentation for the payments, including the required landfill tickets and work orders. FOX 8 also asked IV to provide it. Neither did. Kenner Mayor Ben Zahn and his administration refused to answer questions on camera about IV waste, citing the ongoing lawsuit with Ramelli Waste. But Friedman says the documents show at the very least, Kenner needs to do a better job overseeing work and billings that have cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

IV submitted an updated invoice to FOX 8 Thursday afternoon, which they say shows Kenner wasn’t charged for trash from the Jung Hotel. IV also sent some additional invoices that Kenner doesn’t have. However, there are still hundreds of thousands of dollars of payments without documentation to back it up.

In its statement, IV waste added, “IV Waste invested more than $425,000 to build a brand-new drop-off station and provide it with state-of-the-art operating equipment for the convenience of the people of Kenner. This was invested above and beyond any contractual obligation owed to the city.”

In our reporting for this story, we noticed documents suggesting IV Waste billed Kenner for trash from St. Bernard Parish. Late Thursday afternoon, IV Waste provided documentation that showed the matter was fixed shortly after the double billing.

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