HOUSTON—It’s an eyesore and a hazard that sits on the sides of our roads and streets—garbage, furniture, dead animals and other junk that someone didn’t bother to dispose of the right way.
Now, some of them are learning about illegal dumping the hard way.
“I learned my lesson. I done it and I’m paying for it,” said Cedric Lindsey.
In February, Lindsey unloaded a mattress, box spring and other debris on the side of the 3500 Block of Dabney in East Houston. He claims he tried to go to a landfill first.
Lindsey: “It was closed, I had to get it off my truck.”
I-Team: “You got it off your truck all right.”
Lindsey: “And I’m paying for it too, it cost me $920.”
Because it was all caught on video, Lindsey had little choice but to plead guilty to the crime. And he’s not the only one this past year since police have beefed up their surveillance camera arsenal.
Others nabbed by authorities include people dumping tires, both in the daylight and at night. Some scofflaws threw away a truck full of wood, while others left an entire U-Haul of trash. There was a couch or two in the mix, a Christmas tree too.
But perhaps the most brazen of them all occurred at a northwest Houston restaurant. A company hired to clean out its grease trap, instead hooked up a hose and flushed it straight down the public sewer.
“What was going on there? Why would you do such a thing?” the I-Team asked one participant, David Sanchez. He told us to leave and closed the door.
However, court records show he and co-defendant Juan Rocha confessed to the crime.
“If they try to claim ‘hey it wasn’t me,’ we can show them, ‘well, we have you on tape’,” said Roger Haseman, Chief of the Environmental Crimes Division at the Harris County District Attorney’s office.
Before cameras, Haseman said, it was much harder for cops to make a case.
“Go through trash, try to find trace evidence that we might be able to link back to somebody,” Haseman said.
“If we couldn’t, if it’s generic waste, then the taxpayers were left just holding the bag to clean that up,” he said.
Perhaps no one knows that better than Sean Quigley, whose company, ‘On Our Own Services,’ has the clean-up contract for the City of Houston.
Quigley: “The taxpayers are the big loser in the whole thing.”
I-Team: “How much do taxpayers pay a year?”
Quigley: “About $1.4 million a year.”
And at some sites?
“We have to go clean over and over and over again,” Quigley said.
Why is that? One possible factor is those arrested, rarely serve any hard time. The I-Team crunched the numbers going back three years and found 35 percent of all dumping cases ended only in a fine, while 52 percent of defendants were given just two days or less jail time.
I-Team: “Is that enough?”
Haseman: “Well you know, for someone who’s never been in jail before, a day or two I think can be substantial.”
Haseman said he prefers to hit them in the pocketbook. Additionally, he requires them to clean up their mess.
“If the experience is expensive for what they did, hopefully that will be enough deterrence to where they won’t do it again,” Haseman said.
At least that approach worked in the case of Cedric Lindsey.
“I know one thing, you won’t see, you won’t see me do that again, ever in this life. Now make a note of that,” Lindsey said.
Assistant District Attorney Haseman estimates his office has filed between 60 and 70 “camera cases” this past year.