Charity Case

The Office of the Missouri Attorney General finally settled with Republic Services for $16 million on behalf of the Department of Natural Resources for the trash company’s egregious environmental violations at the smoldering Bridgeton Landfill. But the majority of that money will be put into the hands of a non-government foundation that caters to the rich. What gives?

The St. Louis Community Foundation, #2 Oak Knoll Park, Clayton, Mo.

Amelia A.J. Bond, President and CEO of the St. Louis Community Foundation.

  Sometime in the next month, Bridgeton Landfill LLC will deposit $12.5 million into the coffers of the St. Louis Community Foundation, a tax-exempt non-profit, charitable organization. The landfill, which is a subsidiary of Republic Services Inc., did not make the contribution out of  kindness, but as part a court-ordered consent judgment signed by St. Louis County Circuit Court Judge Michael T. Jamison on June 29.

Republic Services lawyer John B. Nickerson

The agreement, part of a $16 million  settlement, closes the book for now on  five years of litigation conducted mainly behind closed doors between the state of Missouri and the trash company, which owns both the smoldering  Bridgeton Landfill and adjacent West Lake Lake Landfill that is contaminated with radioactive waste. A final plan for the clean up of the site by the EPA is still pending.

Then-Attorney General Kris Koster filed the suit against Bridgeton Landfill and its parent company on behalf of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources in 2013,

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley

asserting violations of the law by the landfill that caused harm to the environment and human health. The case continued after current Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley took office last year.

The pact requires Republic to reimburse MDNR for $2 million in staff time, pay a civil penalty of $1 million and $500,000 for damages to the state’s natural resources. The corporation is also required to monitor air and groundwater under state supervision contingent upon obtaining $26 million in bond funding or face paying the state hundreds of millions of dollars.

But three-quarters of the settlement will be put into money market accounts exclusively handled by the St. Louis charity — which was not a party to the suit and does not have a depth of experience in environmental protection issues.

The agreement to earmark $12.5 million of the state of Missouri’s settlement to the private St. Louis Community Foundation was signed by Republic Services’ lawyer John B. Nickerson and the St. Louis Community Foundation President and CEO Amelia A. J. Bond. The foundation will control the money through an entity of its own called the Bridgeton Community Fund.

When initially asked by email about the agreement, a spokesperson for the Attorney General responded by sending a  link to the original press release, which does not explain the decision to award the money to the private, tax-exempt institution.  Further calls and emails requesting an explanation from the Office of the Missouri Attorney General did not elicit any answers.

Daniel C. Hartman, an aide to the Missouri Attorney General, indicated that a state Sunshine Law request for documents asking for all communications between the Office of the Missouri Attorney General and the St. Louis Community Foundation will likely not be available before Aug 14 due to the volume of records to be searched. The requisite response to the request includes this warning: “Please note that we reserve the right to close responsive records in whole or part pursuant to law.”

Controlling the message is an obvious imperative for both the private foundation and the state government. The foundation in this case deferred to the state, recommending that all questions  be directed to  Mary Compton, the spokeswoman for the Office of the Missouri Attorney General — who already had declined to respond to repeated inquiries.

Though she did not answer how and why the  St. Louis Community Foundation was selected to receive $12.5 million from the state of Missouri as a part of the settlement, Neosha S. Franklin, a spokeswoman for the private philanthropy did offer this pat response, which had already been released to the media weeks ago:

“The Bridgeton Landfill Community Project Fund will provide grants [to non-profit corporations] that promote the betterment of the environment, public health and safety, within a four-mile radius of the Bridgeton Landfill. The Fund does not address the West Lake Landfill or Coldwater Creek. St. Louis Community Foundation is prohibited from making any grants to individuals.”

The agreement, which is good for the next four years, allows  any non-profit corporation in the area to apply for a grant, but those that target their efforts within the four-mile radius of the landfill site will receive the priority.

The deal between Republic Services and the foundation, which is part of the larger consent judgment, sets up the Bridgeton Community Fund and  puts the private foundation in control of $12.5 million in public funds. Moreover, the directors of the foundation have absolute power to change how the money is used in the future and who gets it.

According to the agreement: … The Foundation shall have the ultimate authority and control over all property in the Fund, and income derived therefrom.  …  If in the sole judgment of the Foundation, the purposes for which the Fund was created ever become unnecessary, incapable of fulfillment, or inconsistent with the charitable needs of the community served by the Foundation, the Foundation’s Board of Directors shall modify any restriction or condition on the use or distribution of the income and principal of the Fund. …”

The foundation’s offices are located in a stone mansion on the grounds of the city of Clayton’s Oak Knoll Park at Big Big Bend Boulevard and Clayton Road. In 2015, the St. Louis Community Foundation Inc. claimed assets or fund balances of more than $207 million, according to its IRS non-profit tax statement.  Bond, a former Wells Fargo investment banker and the president and CEO of the foundation, was paid more than $263, 000 in annual salary, and more than $17,000 in expenses, according to the IRS.  Previously, she headed the public finance division of Wachovia Securities in St. Louis for two years in the late 2000s following its merger with A.G. Edwards. Wells Fargo bought out Wachovia during this period of financial instability. Earlier in her career, she sat on the board of the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board. In short, Bond is an expert in municipal bonds. The settlement agreement hashed out by the state and Republic Services requires that its subsidiary, Bridgeton Landfill LLC, secure $26 million in bond funding to maintain, monitor and mitigate air and groundwater quality in the area around the troubled landfill in North St. Louis County.

Wells Fargo, the foundation head’s former employer, is one of the banks that provided Republic Services a five-year $1.2 billion loan in 2014 under the stipulation that the trash company was free from any environmental violations that would harm the company’s bottom line. The suit by the state of Missouri claiming environmental damages by Republic was filed a year earlier in 2013. To secure that loan Republic had to indemnify itself through a subsidiary located in the Cayman Islands. 

Pastures of Plenty: The back door of the St. Louis Community Foundation in Oak Knoll Park.

Charity Begins at Home

One previous director of the well-heeled charity is former Republican U.S. Sen. Christopher “Kit” Bond, the uncle of Amelia Bond’s husband, Arthur Doerr Bond III, the son of the senator’s late brother.

Besides the newly created Bridgeton Community Fund, the St. Louis Community Foundation runs two other non-profit outfits, the Greater Saint Louis Real Estate Foundation and the Alberici Foundation.

The favorite means of donating to the St. Louis Community Foundation is through what is called “donor advised funding.” In this method of tax write-offs,  anonymous donors target the non-profit institutions of their choice. Donors who use this way of making contributions support a wide array of worthy causes, including St. Louis Public Radio, the St. Louis Public Schools Foundation, Channel 9,  the Special School District, Operation Food Search, the Salvation Army, Planned Parenthood, and the  St. Louis Zoo and Art Museum.

But  many other contributions are made to wealthy private institutions and religiously-affiliated organizations,  some of which are located hundreds of miles away from St. Louis.  Recipients in this category included Washington University and John Burroughs School, which both bagged more than a $1 million in recent years, according to the foundation’s tax returns. An even more generous donation of $2 million was made anonymously through the foundation to the Journey Fellowship, a fundamentalist Christian church.

The out-of-town donations to the foundation were funneled to non-profit organizations such as the exclusive Cushing Academy in Ashburnham, Mass., which charges more than $60,000 a year for tuition and boarding. Other distant recipients of the foundation’s generosity include: the Bank Street College of Education in New York City; the Regent Preparatory School of Oklahoma; The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, New York City; the Miami Conservatory of Music, Miami, Fl.; and the Zion Lutheran Church of Dallas Texas.

At the top of its tax return the foundation summarizes its mission and most significant activities as being the administration of “charitable funds for the betterment of St. Louis.” But apparently there are frequent exceptions to that rule.

Analyzing the arcane aspects of the federal tax code and how it applies in this case without the aid of a battery of tax lawyers and CPAs is nigh impossible;  and lacking any explanation from the foundation itself leaves more questions than answers.

There are, for example, two non-profit tax returns filed by the foundation in 2015, which cover the same time period.  One is in the name of the aforementioned St. Louis Community Foundation Inc., the non-profit corporation,  listing claimed assets or fund balances in excess of $207 million. The second  entity that filed a return the same year is identified simply as the St. Louis Community Foundation — without the “Inc.” The latter charity is organized under state law as a Missouri Trust.  It lists a little more then $72 million in claimed assets and funds balances.

The bottom line is this: Since the St. Louis Community Foundation has agreed to be the fiduciary of  $12.5 million won in a settlement  by Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley  it may be prudent for his counterpart — Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway — to examine the foundation’s ledgers.

 

 

Devil on the Rock Road

Tax records suggest access by a giant trash-hauler to landlocked property inside an EPA Superfund site in Bridgeton may be due to special dispensation granted by the Catholic Church. But nobody is confessing to such a Faustian pact.

St. Louis County property tax records indicate that the more than 20 acres shaded in yellow inside the EPA Superfund site are owned by West Lake Quarry & Material Co., which is owned by the Catholic Church.

St. Louis County property tax records indicate that the more than 20 acres shaded in yellow inside the West Lake EPA Superfund site are owned by West Lake Quarry & Material Co., which is owned by the Catholic Church.

The EPA website dedicated to the radioactively-contaminated West Lake landfill in Bridgeton offers a vague description of the Superfund site, describing its size as “approximately 200 acres.”

In that sense, the boundaries of the site are as uncertain as the exact location of the nuclear waste itself. On one hand, the uncertainty is due to the failure of the federal regulatory agency to pinpoint the hot spots. That failure comes despite 40 years of oversight.

But there is equal ambiguity related to the history of the impacted properties themselves and their current ownership status. It’s a mystery that the EPA and others, including the St. Louis Archdiocese, don’t seem to want to talk about.

As usual, the devil is in the details, and in this case the details involve the Catholic Church.

St. Louis County land records indicate that the main road leading into the site, as well as more than 20 acres in its interior are still owned by the West Lake Quarry & Material Co. The church took over the quarry operations after the business was bequeathed to it decades ago. Quarry operations ceased years ago, but the corporation itself remains active and charities tied to the church own the company.

St. Louis County real estate records indicate that the West Lake Quarry & Material Co. is the owner of land inside the EPA West Lake Superfund site in Bridgeton. The quarry company is owned by the St. Louis Archdiocese, but the tax bill is sent to a post office box in Phoenix.

St. Louis County real estate records indicate that the West Lake Quarry & Material Co. is the owner of land inside the EPA West Lake Superfund site in Bridgeton. The quarry company is owned by the St. Louis Archdiocese, but the tax bill is sent to a post office box in Phoenix.

In short, the church in this case holds the keys not to heaven but a radioactive waste dump, according to the county  records. But this is where it gets murkier.

Tax records reveal that the tax bill is not sent to the archdiocese or any other identifiable church entity.  Instead, the tax bill is sent to an anonymous post office box in Phoenix, Ariz., the headquarters city of site owner Republic Services, a responsible party for the EPA cleanup.  Since acquiring the property more than a decade ago, Republic has closed other operations, but continues to use the site as a transfer station.

A corporate registration report filed earlier this year with the Missouri Secretary of State’s office shows the president of West Lake Quarry as William Whitaker, a retired mining engineer who lives in O’Fallon, Mo. St. Louis attorney Bernard C. Huger is listed as the secretary of the corporation. The same two individuals are now the sole members of the board of directors. Both men say they represent the church’s interests in the company.

Missouri Secretary of State records from this year show the officers and board members of the West Lake Quarry and Material Co. are longtime representatives of the Catholic Church.

Missouri Secretary of State records from this year show the officers and board members of the West Lake Quarry & Material Co. are longtime representatives of the Catholic Church.

After the church was bequeathed the company, it needed a qualified person to run the business. “They found me 1,200 feet underground,” says Whitaker, who previously supervised a lead mine near Viburnum, Mo. When he took over, the West Lake Quarry was one of a number of holdings owned by the company.

“All of a sudden they (the church) owned a bunch of quarries and they had nobody to run the operation because the owner who was running it had passed away,” recalls Whitaker. “They asked me if I would come up and run the operation. I’ve been in the mining business since 1960, how many years is that?”

When informed that the company was still on the St. Louis County property tax rolls, Huger expressed surprise and attributed it to governmental error.  “I think we sold all that and they don’t have the records right. I don’t know. But that’s a long time ago. I think it’s all long since been sold.”

But a clerk for the St. Louis County Recorder of Deeds office told StlReporter that  property tax recipients were based on information contained in the property deed, and the quarry company’s name appears on the tax bill.

“The quarry is not operating but we keep it open just in case anything would come up from time to time,” Huger says. “There might be some workmen’s comp case come up. Someone might make a claim that (was) an employee. We had one of those a couple years ago. We just keep it open. But it’s really not active. It’s not doing any active business. Let’s put it that way.”

The current shareholders “are several Catholic institutions,” says Huger. He estimates that the business has been dormant 20 years. “I don’t know the exact date. But it’s been a very long time,” he says. At the time the previous owners willed the business to the church, it was a thriving concern. “West Lake Quarry and Material Co. was a big quarry operator with quarries up and down the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers,” says Huger. “The company had towboats and barges.” Incorporation records show that the company’s barge fleeting operations extended southward to states bordering the Mississippi from St. Louis to New Orleans.

Spokespersons for the St. Louis Archdiocese, the EPA and Republic Services refused to comment.

Why Republic Services, a responsible party  for the cleanup, is allowed to conduct a profit-making business inside the site remains a matter of debate. While church and state remain mum on the issue, the question elicited a series of responses at a recent monthly meeting of the West Lake Community Advisory Group (CAG), which acts as a liaison with the EPA.

“I don’t know if the actual road that goes to the transfer station is (part of) the Superfund,” says Ed Smith of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment. “That’s not something I’ve thought about before. So it’s possible that the road is not a Superfund (site).”

Matt LaVanchy, an assistant chief of the Pattonville Fire Protection District, expressed little doubt where the lines are drawn. “It’s my understanding that the areas that are impacted by the radiological material are under the oversight of the EPA,” says LaVanchy.

One thing is for sure: While the public remains confused over the issue,  Republic trash trucks continue to roll in and out of the site as if they have God on their side.