EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third in a multi-part series of articles about San Luis Obispo County’s waste disposal agency. The first reported on the agency’s free-spending use of a public credit card and the lack of credit card documentation of nearly a half-million dollars. The second reported that the SLO County District Attorney’s office had mounted an investigation into the IWMA.
By Cal Coast Times staff
Shortly after waste hauler Charles Tenborg received a “notice of violation” from a state agency, CalRecycle, charging that he “repeatedly made false statements” to fraudulently obtain more than $34,000 in tax dollars, Tenborg admitted the transgression and in February 2017 wrote a check to reimburse the state.
A few weeks later, Tenborg was in court testifying under oath that neither he nor any of his multiple waste disposal companies had ever been sanctioned by any state agency. Tenborg and local government officials stepped into the witness box to repeat that and other disputed claims during a March 2017 libel trial Tenborg brought against CalCoastNews and two of its reporters. That case resulted in a $1.1 million judgment.
The CalRecycle penalty was among the findings of investigator Carl Knudson following a nine-month probe into Tenborg, a private contractor, and his long and lucrative relationship to San Luis Obispo County’s Integrated Waste Management Authority (IWMA) and its manager, since its inception 20 years ago, William Worrell.
Knudson’s investigation apparently bothered Tenborg from the start.
A month after a citizens’ group retained investigator Knudson, Tenborg’s attorneys, Kerr Wagstaffe of San Francisco, proposed settlement offers to Karen Velie and Daniel Blackburn. The offers stipulated that Tenborg would abandon his entire financial claim in exchange for the reporters’ agreement to never again report on him or his companies.
And, in what was described as a “non-negotiable” provision, a similar gag order was proposed to cover Worrell and the IWMA, also. Neither the IWMA nor Worrell were a party to Tenborg’s libel complaint against CalCoastNews.
The offer also would have required termination of Knudson’s investigation, a matter over which neither Velie nor Blackburn had any control. Both rejected Tenborg’s demands.
Knudson’s inquiry produced three separate reports. The first examined the businesses of Charles K. Tenborg and the connections between Tenborg and Worrell. The second focused specifically on a summary of “potential ‘perjury” or “false statements” made by Charles Tenborg that were uncovered during the investigation of Tenborg and his companies, Eco Solutions, Fond Farewells Inc., CEC Medical Waste Services Inc., CEC Electronic Waste Recycling, The Cleaner Earth Company Inc., and Stericycle, Inc.” The third was an analysis of Worrell and the IWMA’s financial activities.
In the final report, Knudson noted that “the more serious issues that I uncovered deal with the relationship between Tenborg and Worrell at the IWMA.”
CalRecycle penalties were only the latest of a string of citations for violations stretching back 10 years issued to Tenborg and his companies by state regulatory agencies.
Even so, in the run-up to the CalCoastNews trial, Tenborg swore in a October 2, 2013 declaration that he had never been in trouble with any state regulators.
“Up until (the CalCoastNews article) was published, I had an excellent reputation in the community. To this day, I have never been the subject of an enforcement action by the California Department of Toxic Substances and Controls (DTSC).”
State agency records obtained by public information requests, however, show that in 2008, 2009, and 2011, the DTSC sent notices of violations to Tenborg. The DTSC refused to provide the documentation to CalCoastNews before the trial because the information was part of an ongoing investigation.
Those violations of hazardous waste laws, regulations and requirements, were acknowledged in writing by Charles Tenborg or his brother, Maurice Tenborg, according to state records. In each case, Charles Tenborg was required to correct or mitigate the problem, according to Knudson’s report.
Both Worrell and Tenborg testified in the libel suit that Tenborg had always complied with all environmental regulations and that he had never been the subject of any enforcement action by the DTSC or any other agency. Tenborg and several county employees testified Tenborg always was properly licensed.
In sworn testimony during a pre-trial declaration, Tenborg asserted: “Both my company and I have always complied with the applicable regulations regarding this program, such as completing any necessary bills of lading, and any assertion to the contrary by the Defendants is wholly false… to this day, I have never been the subject of an enforcement action by the California Department of Toxic Substances and Controls… we have always complied with the proper environmental regulations….”
In Sept. 2008, the DTSC filed two violations against Tenborg for violations of hazardous waste laws and regulations at the Cold Canyon IWMA facility.
In Oct. 2009, the DTSC levied four violations against Tenborg for issues such as releasing hazardous waste onto the dirt at the IWMA facility at Cold Canyon and for not having the proper licensing with the federal EPA. Also in 2009, SLO County and city officials denied Tenborg permits to continue recycling at his Ikeda Way address, which he had been operating without the proper permits, according to state records.
In 2011, the DTSC filed multiple environmental violations against Tenborg’s operations at the IWMA facility at Cold Canyon. In that case, Tenborg was required to decontaminate the site, according to state records.
In the lead-up to the trial, the DTSC was conducting its own ongoing investigation into Tenborg’s alleged violation of law. That meant that the DTSC denied CalCoastNews information about Tenborg in a timely manner. The DTSC investigator, Valerie Alvarez, died before she could complete her work, and the agency closed the probe.
In 2015, Cal Recycle found 17 violations in Tenborg’s handling of universal waste. Tenborg testified at trial he was no longer working with universal waste.
At one point during the trial, Tenborg denied ever being forced to clean up an illegal dumping at Cold Canyon Landfill.
However, in an exchange of emails in November 2015, Ryan Lodge of the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board and Benjamin Gray at Waste Connections discussed a “Waste Handling Complaint” at the Cold Canyon Landfill. Knudson would later write “that seems to contradict Tenborg’s sworn statements in two declarations, a deposition and his court testimony as to the Cold Canyon incident.”
“After reviewing the analytical data,” wrote Lodge to Gray, “our Environmental Specialist for the Western Region informed me that the sampled material did not meet ‘unrestricted’ use and needed to be placed into a lined portion of the landfill. The material was not hazardous waste, but could not be dumped in the area that it had been. I provided (Tenborg) with a special waste application which he completed and provided to our Environmental Specialist, who then issued special waste permit. Tenborg then cleaned up all soils that were dumped by the HHW.”
Knudson’s analyses included a close look at Tenborg’s disposition of, and accounting for, so-called “vault waste” generated by PG&E.
“It appears from the information gathered,” wrote Knudson, “that Tenborg had been collecting vault waste from PG&E beginning at least in 2009, and there is no indication where he was properly disposing of this waste. I have reviewed sworn statements of Tenborg where he admitted to disposing of ‘clean’ soils from PG&E in 2013, and that PG&E were not clients prior to 2013.
“These sworn statements from Tenborg,” Knudson added, “seem to conflict with the evidence cited in this report where Cold Canyon described the soils as ‘restricted’ and could not be dumped at the HHW (Hazardous Household Waste) site where they had been dumped. Tenborg’s own billing statements to the IWMA and a statement from a prior business partner indicated that PG&E was a client dating back to 2009.”
Knudson also suggested consideration of prosecution:
“The evidence as detailed in this report shows that Charles K. Tenborg apparently provided false and misleading testimony under the penalty of perjury in two declarations filed with the court, a sworn deposition given in September 2016, and provided apparent false and misleading testimony during a March 2017 trial in the San Luis Obispo County Superior Court.”
Tenborg’s testimony during trial helped him win a $1.1 million judgment against CalCoastNews and reporters Karen Velie and Dan Blackburn. That judgment is being appealed by international law firm Alston & Bird. Even so, an appellant cannot win an appeal based on perjury or fraud.
During trial, Tenborg testified his financial loss was exacerbated by his “sale” of one of his companies, Eco Solutions.
Knudson’s investigation questioned this: “In particular,” he wrote, “I believe the assertion by Tenborg that he had to sell Eco Solutions as a result of the Nov. 2012 article by CalCoastNews is not supported by the evidence cited in this report. There was no documentary evidence provided during the litigation that Eco Solutions was sold to Stericycle.”
Knudson recommended that “this report be shared with local law enforcement authorities to determine whether Tenborg doing business as CEC Electronic Waste Recycling, Inc. should be prosecuted for repeatedly making false statements on seventeen (17) consecutive payment claims to CalRecycle during the period March 2014 to July 2015, which were made under the penalty of perjury.
“We would further recommend that law enforcement officials review the apparent false statements made on the Tenborg declarations of October and November 2013, which were filed with the San Luis Obispo County Superior Court; the apparent false statements given during a sworn deposition in September 2016; and Tenborg’s false sworn trial testimony in March of 2017.”
Knudson’s reports have been turned over to the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney, which has launched its own investigation into the IWMA. Copies also were requested by, and delivered to, the FBI and the state’s Attorney General.
An Aug. 8 special meeting of the IWMA Board of Directors has been called to examine the employment performance of William Worrell and other issues related to his management of the public agency.
NEXT: William Worrell and Maurice Tenborg’s questionable use of the IWMA credit card.