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Seven arrested in Douglas County landfill theft scheme, Waste Management estimates loss around $350k

Posted at 6:18 PM, Apr 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-16 19:18:46-04

BENNINGTON, Neb. (KMTV) — Douglas County authorities say an illegal weight manipulation scheme that allowed employees and haulers to pocket cash, took place at Pheasant Point landfill in Bennington.

According to the arrest affidavits, four employees involved would manipulate the two required weigh-ins in different ways, guaranteeing themselves a profit, and often a discount for the hauler dumping their load.

“These trucks would come in, they would fudge on the weight of the truck, either when it was coming out or coming in,” said County Attorney Don Kleine.

The court documents say that the supervisor would divvy out the money as ‘tips’ to employees later in the day.

The documents show that during less than a three-month period, from June of 2020 to August of 2020, they manipulated 336 loads of trash.

Waste Management, which owns and operates the landfill, estimates it lost around $350,000 in the last three years. It's unknown how much the landowner, Douglas County and the State of Nebraska lost.

“This is taxpayer money, the county is out money here, Waste management is out money, the landowner is out money, the state of Nebraska is out money here, so we want to make sure the message is sent that we’re not going to tolerate this kind of behavior,” said Kleine.

Friday afternoon, four employees, 36-year-old Suzanne Swanson, 53-year-old Mark Helmberger, 24-year-old Anahi Lara, and 68-year-old Mark Huntley — who’s the supervisor — had their first appearance in court.

They were joined by two contractors authorities also arrested: 43-year-old Hector Flores and 63-year-old Gary Cooper. All six were given $20,000 dollar bonds.

Another employee, 66-year-old James Sudkya, was arrested later in the day.

County Attorney Don Kleine said investigators are still going through financial documents and old video.

One employee that was not arrested told authorities that the scheme has been ongoing since 1995.

“We think the scheme was going on for a longer period of time, maybe even years,” Kleine said.

Three of the employees were sent home under suspicion of theft last October. Law enforcement began investigating shortly after, according to the affidavits.

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