By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
Two floors below the courtroom where the high-profile sentencing trial of the Parkland school killer got underway Monday, opening arguments were heard in the blockbuster civil trial about the $525-million trash disposal takeover that preceded the widespread decline of recycling in Broward.
The non-jury trial before Broward Chief Judge Jack Tuter pits defendant Waste Management against Bergeron Environmental and Recycling, owned by wealthy Davie businessman “Alligator” Ron Bergeron, and is expected to cast new light on several matters of public interest.
Most notable, perhaps, is why antitrust regulators at the Florida Attorney General’s Office failed to enforce – and actually hid from Broward’s cities – certain valuable commitments they received from Waste Management in exchange for not opposing its controversial 2016 asset purchase of Southern Waste Systems (SWS) Holdings, including assets of its Sun Recycling subsidiary. Those commitments were described in a Dec. 3, 2015 letter obtained by Florida Bulldog in 2018.
Sun Recycling, now known as LGL Recycling, and Bergeron Environmental were partners in Sun Bergeron, a joint venture which in 2013 upended Waste Management’s long-standing monopoly in Broward’s solid waste disposal business by contracting with 17 municipalities to process their recycled trash.
Bergeron sued Waste Management shortly after the SWS/Sun deal was struck, contending the Houston-based trash giant destroyed his business when it bought out Sun Recycling. He also sued SWS’s principal owner, Palm Beach businessman and former New York trash hauler Anthony Lomangino, who Bergeron contends sold him out by secretly negotiating the sale behind his back.
Named as defendants along with Waste Management, LGL and Anthony Lomangino as part of a conspiracy to “tortiously interfere” with Bergeron’s business are LGL executives Charles Gusmano (Anthony’s nephew) and Charles Lomangino (Anthony’s son), and former SWS vice president John Casagrande.
THE ‘ULTIMATE PUPPETEER’
In sum, Bergeron is seeking in excess of $100 million in damages.
In an hour-long opening statement Monday, Bergeron’s Fort Lauderdale lawyer Mitchell Berger reiterated his client’s accusations and sought to paint Waste Management as the “ultimate puppeteer.”
In opening replies, West Palm Beach attorney Roy Fitzgerald, representing the Lomangino defendants, and Miami’s Fred Fein, whose client is Waste Management, fired back that the case that has taken more than six years to get to trial is in fact “pretty simple.” Their key reason: “Bergeron has no damages.”
“The Joint Venture was not a big money maker,” said Fitzgerald.
Last week, the Florida Supreme Court declined to intervene to overturn a ruling by the Fourth District Court of Appeal that upheld Tuter’s August 2021 decision to allow Bergeron to amend his complaint to assert additional claims for punitive damages against both Waste Management and LGL.
Tuter acted after determining that evidence produced for his inspection in court papers and during two days of pre-trial hearings “sufficiently outlines a scheme to put Sun Bergeron out of business by depleting its assets, interfering with or taking control of its government contracts and closing the deal [despite] knowing it needed Bergeron’s approval.”
A COUNTY COMMISSIONER WATCHES
The judge cautioned findings were preliminary. “Nothing in this order should be construed the Court has made any determination as to whether the plaintiff [Bergeron] can actually prove by clear and convincing evidence, their right to recover punitive damages,” he said.
That’s what Bergeron’s lawyers will try to do during the anticipated next five weeks.
Attendees at the trial’s opening day began before a gaggle of lawyers and their clients, including Bergeron, his wife, Ali Waldman Bergeron, Anthony Lomangino, Gusmano and Casagrande.
Also attending was Broward County Commissioner Mark Bogen, whose district includes Coconut Creek and its neighbor, the hulking Monarch Hill landfill owned by Waste Management.
Asked why he was there, Bogen replied, “I’m very interested to see if someone pulled the wool over our eyes six years ago.”
In May 2015, before Bogen joined the commission, it held a controversial 7-2 vote to close one of Broward’s two taxpayer-funded waste-to-energy incinerators adjacent to Monarch Hill in Pompano Beach. The plant was paid for by taxpayers, but later given to Waste Management to operate. The closure resulted in more trash being dumped at the landfill.