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Regional Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, March 1, 2007

IFCO bust used to stop use of illegal workers

By Jarrett Carroll

ALBANY — Nearly a year after 1,187 illegal immigrants were rounded up in a nationwide raid, the company managers accused of knowingly hiring them pleaded guilty in federal court on Tuesday.

It was the largest immigration raid in history at the time, and now, it is being used as the textbook example for today’s immigration stings, according to United States Immigration Customs Enforcement. Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff said more than 40 IFCO plants throughout 26 different states were affected by the 2006 raid.

"This was the first significant work site investigation where we looked at the case nationwide and targeted employers doing the hiring. This was the starting point for how we are doing things today"It was highly successful," said Peter Smith, special agent in charge of the Buffalo office of the ICE.

The investigation leading up to the raid began after federal agents were tipped off that IFCO, a German-based pallet company, was hiring illegal aliens at many of its factories around the country. The American headquarters for the company is in Houston, Texas.

Concerns were first raised at the IFCO plant in the Northeast Industrial Park in Guilderland Center.

IFCO employees James Rice, Robert Belvin, Dario Salzano, Scott Dodge, and Michael Ames all pleaded guilty as part of a plea agreement in United States District Court in Albany before Judge Lawrence E. Kahn this week.

Rice and Belvin pleaded guilty Tuesday to felony charges and the other men pleaded guilty to lesser misdemeanor charges. Rice and Belvin could face a maximum of 10 years in federal prison.

All of the men admitted in court to knowingly hiring and harboring illegal aliens.

Immigrants deported

Locally, scores of undocumented immigrants worked at the IFCO plant in the Northeast Industrial Park last April. They were provided housing by IFCO on Western Avenue and Route 146 in town.

Federal agents say their 14-month investigation by the Department of Homeland Security began after witnesses told them workers were "ripping up their W-2 forms" at Guilderland’s industrial park.

The Enterprise, with the help of interpreter Roberto Flores, interviewed workers from the plant in Guilderland Center. The men all lived together and were paid 30 cents for each wooden pallet they rebuilt.

"We want to get back working, that’s why we’re here," a 23-year-old man from Honduras said at the time. "If they send me home, they send me home. I’d rather be home than detained."

The men, who said they came to America from different parts of South America and Central America including Honduras, Mexico, and Nicaragua, said they were not mistreated during the raid.

All of the men taken in the raid, including those who talked to The Enterprise were sent to the Buffalo Federal Detention Center in Batavia about two weeks after the raid and deported to their respective countries, according the United States Immigration Custom Enforcement agency.

Smith said the men were "voluntarily removed" from the country.

"If they decide to not challenge their charges then we get them out of prison and get them home," Smith told The Enterprise yesterday. "But, if they re-enter the country illegally, they will be charged with felony re-entry and face five years in prison."

All of the men deported after the raid been entered into a national database used by Homeland Security, he said.

As for their travel accommodations, Smith said, the government has a contract, which on a monthly basis, or sooner if there are enough detainees to fill a plane, immigrants are flown to their home countries.

Product of that environment

Dario Salzano, an Amsterdam man who was the assistant manager at IFCO in the Northeast Industrial Park at the time of the raid, pleaded guilty to a low-level misdemeanor of employing illegal aliens, according to his attorney, Kevin Luibrand.

"It’s a proper outcome given the circumstances," Luibrand said. "Dario was hired in August of 2005 and he found that it was an environment that encouraged the hiring of employees from any means.

"He became a product of that environment," Luibrand concluded.

Luibrand said that his client’s plea was the lowest-level offense out of the five men in court on Tuesday. Salzano is facing a zero-to-six-month sentence in prison, as well as fines, but has cooperated with authorities throughout his ordeal, said Luibrand.

The five men will be sentenced on June 20 in federal court.

Music, art, cinema lead Out of Darkness: From Holocaust to Hope

By Rachel Dutil

"The Holocaust was a human problem, not just a Jewish problem," says David Griggs-Janower, artistic director and conductor for Albany Pro Musica.

Genocide hasn’t stopped since World War II, he pointed out.

Albany Pro Musica, an auditioned community chorus, will perform three concerts as part of a 12-day multi-media festival to raise awareness about holocausts from World War II to the current situation in Darfur. The event, titled, "Out of the Darkness: From Holocaust to Hope" will feature lectures, a book-signing, poetry, and artwork, in addition to the choral concerts.

"Where do we go from genocide"" Griggs-Janower said he asked himself as he did research for the project. "Hope is how we climb out of despair."

He wanted to bring together the community and focus on peace, unity, and reconciliation, in response to global atrocities. "It’s really turned into quite the event," he told The Enterprise.

"We’ve tried to put together a group of activities that will reach more than the standard classical music lovers," Griggs-Janower said.

He began to formulate the idea after last March’s "wildly successful" choral performance and film event about Joan of Arc, Griggs-Janower said. "Voices of Light," as the program was called, drew about 1,600 people, he said.

"It was an experience more than a concert," he said, as his eyes lit up, remembering the impressive reception. "I had a sense that we should do it again this year."

The upcoming program "began as a concert of Jewish choral works, as we recorded our CD, titled ‘Chai: The Best of Jewish Choral Music’" I added the Holocaust Cantata, then music related to other genocides, to peace, hope, and brotherhood," Griggs-Janower told The Enterprise.

"The idea that ‘Music Saved Our Lives’ began to permeate much of how we were thinking," he said of the idea that acts as a theme for the program.

The program

Griggs-Janower devoted last summer to researching the Holocaust. "I’m Jewish, and I didn’t know much about the Holocaust," he said.

He contacted the Holocaust Survivors and Friends Education Center in Latham, and put together a panel discussion that was held last night. Two Holocaust survivors – Nora and Martin Becker – were on the panel along with Klaus Steinchen, who attended SS school in Bavaria when he was seven; the Schutzstaffel was an elite quasi-military unit of the Nazi party. The panel discussion was followed by a presentation of the film, La Bella Vita, about a man who tries to hold his family together and help his son cope with the horrors of a Jewish concentration camp. The discussion and film was held at Proctor’s Theatre in Schenectady.

Sunday, March 4, the program follows up with a lecture and book-signing by Martin Goldsmith, the program director of XM Classics at XM Satellite Radio, and host of Performance Today on National Public Radio from 1989 to 1999. Goldsmith’s book, The Inextinguishable Symphony: A True Story of Love and Music in Nazi Germany, "is an amazing book,’ Griggs-Janower said.

Griggs-Janower first got acquainted with the book after Steinchen told him that it changed his life. In the book, Goldsmith tells of the Jewish Kulturbund, an all-Jewish ensemble, of which Goldsmith’s parents were a part, that was sustained by the Nazis from 1933 to 1941. For the members of the musical group, the music saved their lives.

Albany Pro Musica will give an opening performance to Goldsmith’s lecture at 3 p.m. at Page Hall in Albany.

They will then perform a concert at the Congregation Berith Sholom in Troy on March 8 at 7:30 p.m.; all the proceeds from ticket sales from that performance will go to the Darfur campaign, Griggs-Janower said.

"Peace and justice are always on my mind as I read the newspaper everyday" I really wanted to have a section on Darfur," he said.

The group will also perform on March 10 at the First Reformed Church in Schenectady at 8 p.m., and on March 11 at Temple Israel in Albany at 3 p.m.

Each performance will be accompanied by artwork – an exhibit of mixed media produced by Guilderland High School graphic design students, an exhibit of paintings from students of the Robert Parker School in Wynantskill, and a collection of paintings loaned from the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City.

The artwork will also be on display at the Albany Museum of History and Art from March 12 through 30.

"It’s nice to have a concert with a focus," Griggs-Janower said.

Albany Pro Musica

Albany Pro Musica, was founded by Griggs-Janower 26 years ago. It was started as a chamber choir, he said, because "nobody was doing the chamber choir repertoire."

Griggs-Janower started college as a pre-med student. "I was always going to be a doctor," he said, "until I started studying music."

If music is in you, you have to do it, he said. "Music starts where words end."

Choral music is a combination of community, text, and music, he said. "You can express anything in such a deep, meaningful way" It’s just fantastic."

Griggs-Janower makes "all the decisions except financial" for the group, he said.

The group consists of about 60 volunteer singers, ranging in age from 25 to 70, he said.

The choir members have a "fierce loyalty," Griggs-Janower said. "People really care about the group" People rarely leave."

Pro Musica members come from all walks of life, he said. But, when on stage, the group has "one expressive goal."

While the singers were on a tour, they got stuck in a February snowstorm on their way home from Europe in Malaga on the coast of Spain, Griggs-Janower recalled. The group was stranded for a day at the airport there.

There were hundreds of people who were just getting angrier by the minute, he said.

"We started singing," he remembered. "You could just feel the tension lessen."

That wouldn’t happen with an orchestra, he said. "Their instruments would be packed away."

"That’s what we do," Griggs-Janower said of singing. Singing is what the members of Albany Pro Musica have chosen to do with their recreational time, he said.

"Their lives would not be the same without it," he said.

With "Out of the Darkness: From Holocaust to Hope," Griggs-Janower said that he’d really like to reach more people. "I would like people to go home from this saying, ‘That was meaningful, more than I expected.’"

"Music has that kind of power," he concluded.

"It stinks"
Say opponents of landfill expansion

By Jarrett Carroll

By Jarrett Carroll

ALBANY COUNTY — As the Rapp Road landfill seeks another expansion midst public outcry against its stench, the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation says those odors have never been tested.

Rick Georgeson, Region IV spokesman for the DEC, told The Enterprise yesterday that the gas seeping into nearby residential areas has never been tested, but that the city of Albany has "verbally agreed" to test the gases as part of its new application for expansion.

The leachate, or liquified garbage, Georgeson said, is tested on a regular basis, as is the groundwater below the landfill’s liner. There have been no violations found in the landfill’s runoff water, he said.

The landfill was fined $50,000 last summer for "excessive odors" and escaping garbage, according to the DEC.

The landfill brought in about $11 million last year for Albany, about 7-percent of the city’s operating budget.

The problem, said Lynne Jackson of Save the Pine Bush, an advocacy group for the preserve, is that the city needs to truly address the garbage problem, not profit from it.

"I’ve begged the Albany Common Council to hold open public hearings on what to do about the garbage"how to fix the garbage problem," Jackson said. "By making garbage a commodity, we’re making it impossible to create a comprehensive solid waste policy."

Jackson said Mayor Gerald Jenning’s deal with the Allied Waste Corporation to dump at the landfill at reduced tipping fees is compounding the problem. Allied Waste is charged only $ 37 a ton as opposed to the $52 charged to the municipalities who dump there.

Rensselaer, Watervliet, Cohoes, Berne, Bethlehem, Knox, Guilderland, New Scotland, Westerlo, Green Island, and Altamont all bring trash to the Rapp Road landfill as part of a consortium.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, typical landfill gases contain 45 to 60 percent methane; 40 to 60 percent carbon monoxide; and small amounts of nitrogen, oxygen, ammonia, sulfides, and hydrogen. The gases also contains trace amounts of non-methane organic compounds such as trichloethylene, benzene, and vinyl chloride.

The department also says that the gases are released through bacterial decomposition, volatilization (turning from liquid to vapor), and chemical reaction. Each landfill’s composition will vary, however, depending on the makeup of garbage dumped there.

Objections to expansion

Nearly 300 residents from Albany, Colonie, and Guilderland came out last Wednesday to say ‘no’ to the proposed landfill expansion.

Emotions ran high at the meeting as nearly all of the residents in attendance, many of whom brought protest signs, spoke out against the landfill’s operations. Most of the complaints pertained to "foul smells," balancing Albany’s budget with garbage profits, and the landfill’s proximity to the Albany Pine Bush Preserve.

The DEC held the public hearing at the Polish Community Center in Albany during a scoping session on the landfill’s proposed 15-acre eastward expansion.

The Rapp Road landfill is expected to reach full capacity by the end of 2009.

William J. Clark, regional permit administrator for the DEC, facilitated the hearing, which at times became contentious, and kept order as residents and politicians alike voiced their opinions for several hours.

"The only decision we’ve made is to hold a hearing and accept an application," Clark said, asking that there be no interruptions during the meeting. "This process involves a full public review"We’re here to listen."

A stenographer recorded comments for the official record as a panel listened and took notes. The panel included the landfill’s solid waste manager, Joe Giebelhaus, and Clough Harbor and Associates principal, Frank Kalberer, among others.

As the public comment portion of the meeting began, Clark set some "ground rules" on allowing each speaker at the podium to speak "without interruption," and he unsuccessfully asked residents to put away signs that opposed the application.

"This is a neutral forum; I know there are a lot of emotions," said Clark. "Please, put away your signs."

Clark’s request was met with several cries of "First Amendment rights" and "freedom of speech."

"This is not a question of freedom of speech," Clark responded without success.

The meeting continued in an orderly fashion with the signs still on display.

What was said

Michael O’Brien, a member of the Albany Common Council, spoke first.

"We are not served unless the state of New York gets proactive in a waste-management solution," O’Brien said. "What are we talking about" Maybe a 10-year solution""I’m making a request to look at the global issue."

The biggest complaint was well-known to surrounding communities: the smell.

"Something is rotten in Albany," said Carmelo Priveta, a resident of the nearby Avila retirement community. "Let’s take the profit out of garbage. Peddling garbage is only directed toward profit, not to improving quality of life."

A large group of retirement-center residents stood every time one of their fellow residents spoke at the podium. Priveta referred to them as the "Gray Panthers," and said true visionaries are needed to tackle the garbage problem instead of just extending it a few more years.

Many of the speakers were from the village of Colonie including the mayor, Frank Leak. Nearly all of them said they complained about the obnoxious odors daily, but that their complaints "fell upon deaf ears," as one put it.

"The village of Colonie is concerned about its air quality," said Albany County Legislator William Clay. "I would be interested in what exactly is in there," he said about the gases escaping from the landfill.

Clay, who represents parts of Guilderland and Colonie, said that the smell has gotten progressively worse and is concerned an expansion would compound the problem.

"I think it’s insulting that this application is even being considered," said Guilderland’s economic development committee chairman, Donald Csaposs. "An additional expansion should not be considered at all."

Csaposs, who lives in McKownville, said that 50 percent of the landfill’s garbage comes from private haulers and "comes from who knows where."

"The city of Albany has developed one heck of a jones for that trash," said Csaposs. "It’s time for an intervention."

A garbage solution"

The city of Albany is proposing to "overfill" 23 acres of existing landfill, meaning replant the Pine Bush, and add 15 acres of city-owned land in a lateral move to the east. The city has proposed relocating existing landfill infrastructure, such as offices and the recycling center, onto a 3.5 acre parcel east of the landfill entrance road on Rapp Road.

Some of the land is also owned by New York State.

Part of the city’s proposal includes a "habitat restoration plan," that would re-establish linkages from west to east in the Pine Bush Preserve through the Fox Run Mobile Home Park to the west and some over portions of closed landfill to the east.

Albany tried to extend through the trailer park last year, but revoked the application after being sued by Save the Pine Bush and has subsequently donated the land to the Pine Bush Preserve.

The city of Albany purchased a 363-acre parcel in the town of Coeymans to build a new landfill site, but the process has been controversial and riddled with delays. Over 100 acres of wetlands were discovered on the parcel by the United States Army Corp of Engineers, and local residents have been vocal in opposition to the project.

Clough Harbor Principal Frank Kalberer told residents at last week’s meeting that the Coeymans site, called the C-2 site, is in the middle of "extensive mitigation," and that Clough Harbor and Associates were working with the Army Corp of Engineers on the matter.

Kalberer said the Coeymans site wouldn’t be a feasible option for at least 10 to 15 years. The current Rapp Road landfill is not expected to last longer than 2010, and most estimates of the expansion will add only 10 more years to it.

"Obviously the city needs to apply an economically feasible solution to its solid waste," Kalberer said. "The city has looked into a number of different alternatives."

Kalberer said the city has met with a number of local groups on the proposal.

"The city of Albany has never met with Save the Pine Bush on the landfill proposal," Jackson said. "We had to sue the city to get them to abandon their original expansion into the Fox Run Mobile Home Park."

Mayor Gerald Jennings did not return a call from The Enterprise for comment.

As for the Coeymans landfill site, Jackson said, "They’re never going to build that landfill."

Many residents at the meeting criticized Albany for having lax recycling enforcement.

Jackson said that only 9 percent of the garbage going to the landfill comes from municipal pickup in Albany, and, out of that 9 percent, she says, recycling and food composting could nearly eliminate it.

"That landfill would last a lot longer and probably not smell as bad," she said. "We shouldn’t be putting food waste in the landfill."

On Albany’s presentation of its purposed expansion last Wednesday, Jackson said, "For people who don’t know everything about the proposal, the presentation was very confusing."

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