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ZURIK: Behind-the-scenes dealings raise questions about Kenner garbage contract

Published: Feb. 21, 2022 at 10:51 PM CST
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KENNER (WVUE) - In a one-hour and 24-minute-long deposition, a powerful behind-the-scenes politico in Jefferson Parish refused to answer questions. Joseph “Nicky” Nicolosi asserted his fifth amendment right against self-incrimination at least 120 times.

The deposition is part of a civil lawsuit involving the city of Kenner’s trash contract. Former Kenner trash collector Ramelli Janitorial service sued for breach of contract after Kenner canceled its contract and decided to hire IV Waste.

Tulane law professor Joel Friedman explained why someone may assert their fifth amendment right.

“It’s essentially telling the government, if you want to prosecute somebody and get the evidence you have to get it from somebody else, not from the mouth of the person, they have the right to remain silent,” said Friedman. FOX 8′s investigation looked into more than $100,000 paid to Nicolosi by a local businessperson, as well as behind-the-scenes videos and documents that raise questions about a multi-million-dollar contract paid with taxpayer money.

In December of 2019, Kenner Mayor Ben Zahn defended the city’s former garbage collector Ramelli Waste, saying, “I think I can work with Ramelli, obviously, because it’s been proven we can work with Ramelli.”

Zahn also said Ramelli was giving the city of Kenner and its residents a “sweetheart deal.” However, just three weeks later, Zahn reversed course, and decided to dump Ramelli as the city’s trash contractor, hiring IV Waste instead.

In the deposition, Zahn said that days after the December council meeting, he raised questions about Ramelli’s service, after residents reported seeing Christmas trees that were supposed to be recycled, being put into the back of garbage trucks. Zahn also said Ramelli delayed building a garbage drop-off site and had a lack of recycling carts.

Zahn said he’s had a relationship with Nicolosi for years and called him a trusted advisor. Nicolosi has worked as a consultant for a few city vendors, including Ramelli in 2019.

After the complaints about Ramelli’s service, Zahn said he went to Nicolosi for help. He said Nicolosi reported back that Ramelli wouldn’t budge. Zahn never met with Ramelli’s owner, and instead, decided to dump the contractor just weeks after praising the company at a council meeting.

Here’s a look at the timeline:

December 20, 2019: Zahn praises Ramelli at council meeting

January 7: Zahn met with Nicolosi and started discussing hiring IV Waste.

January 17: Zahn met with Nicolosi and IV waste to discuss working with Kenner, while Nicolosi was still on Ramelli’s payroll.

Dr. Robert Collins, a public policy professor at Dillard University, said attending a meeting with one potential vendor, while working for another, raises questions.

“I mean, that raises serious ethical questions, because, you know, it’s all about transparency,” said Collins. “Who are you really working for? I mean, I think the taxpayers have the right to know, who are you working for? Whose interests are you representing? And if you have somebody who’s floating back and forth between vendors, I think that raises some ethical questions as to who that person is representing.”

Documents show that on January 23, 2020, Nicolosi accepted a calendar invite for a meeting with IV Waste and City of Kenner officials. The next day, he quit Ramelli. Then, on Jan. 27, 2020, he attended the meeting with IV and the City of Kenner. In early February, he was included in an email that included the first draft of the contract between IV Waste and Kenner. Kenner didn’t make a public bid for a new contract.

IV Waste took over the contract and became Kenner’s garbage collector in May 2020.

IV Waste owner, Sidney Torres has been adamant he didn’t hire Nicolosi to work as a consultant for his company.

“There’s been a lot of accusations made in the news about backroom deals, and it’s very offensive to hear that because there are no backroom deals here. Nick does not work for me, and the accusation saying he works for me, that there were backroom deals, is just not true, Torres said at a March 2020 Kenner City Council meeting. “At no time did IV Waste pay Mister Nicolosi, directly or indirectly, any money or anything of value, to be an employee of or consultant to IV Waste,” Torres said in a statement to FOX 8.

However, videos and documents raise questions about his involvement with the garbage contract. While IV Waste and Kenner worked on the contract, Nicolosi was included in email communications. That included a draft press release that shows IV planned to hire Nicolosi as a consultant. Torres responded to that draft email saying Nicolosi, “is not hired yet and we will see.”

In April 2020, Nicolosi started posting on Facebook about IV’s rollout, including giving instructions to Kenner residents about the change.

He can also be seen in a video shot by the City of Kenner, telling Torres what days IV Waste will be picking up trash. And in a video from May of 2020, Torres can be heard asking Nicolosi to get with the people distributing the garbage cans.

“You know, it seems like the whole city of Kenner is sort of an Isle of secrecy that you really have to dig into to understand what’s going on,” said Collins. While Torres is adamant Nicolosi is not on his payroll and doesn’t do work for his company, records show Nicolosi started collecting a paycheck from someone close to Torres the same month IV Waste started the Kenner Contract.

David Carimi owns a construction company and is a longtime friend of Torres. The two are business partners. Carimi’s construction company built the Kenner Residential trash drop-off site operated by IV Waste. Torres said he invested $400,000 in the facility. Records show in May of 2020, the same month IV took over the Kenner trash contract, Carimi started writing monthly $5,800 monthly checks to NBN Services, a consulting company owned by Nicolosi. Carimi told FOX 8 he hired Nicolosi to help get his company municipal work. He said while proposals have been submitted, none of them have been accepted in the 21 months Nicolosi has worked for him as a consultant. Yet, Carimi continues to pay Nicolosi.

FOX 8 raised questions with Carimi about the payments.

Zurik: “The month Mister Torres starts doing the contract in Kenner, you start paying Mister Nicolosi. Carimi: “I don’t have anything to do with that.”

Zurik: “Okay, but do you see how it looks?”

Carimi: “I run a construction company. I don’t have anything to do with that.”

Zurik: “How did you decide to hire him?”

Carimi: “If you give me a call, I’d be happy to meet with you.”

Carimi never returned a call by FOX 8 for comment.

In the deposition, Nicolosi wouldn’t answer questions about any ties to IV Waste. However, Collins says this story raises questions about Nicolosi and the lucrative contract with the City of Kenner.

“The whole thing is a cloud,” said Collins. “And you really have to wonder what people’s motivations are because they just don’t seem rational.”

Nicolosi, through his attorney Gaynell Williams, had no comment to FOX 8′s investigation. IV waste reiterated, “It is my understanding that Mr. Nicolosi has been on the payroll of Mr. Ramelli’s firm for many years, but Mr. Torres’ firm chose not to follow that path. IV Waste was approached by members of the Kenner administration and/or council and given the opportunity to provide a proposal to replace the Ramelli firm and did so.”

In Zahn’s reasons for wanting to get rid of Ramelli, he said Christmas trees weren’t being recycled. However, Ramelli noted in court documents that IV Waste also puts Christmas trees in the back of trucks.

Ramelli also said it had until July 1, 2020, to produce new bins, but Zahn essentially fired them six months before that deadline.

The original contract also required Kenner to build the drop-off site, not Ramelli.

Kenner Mayor Ben Zahn wouldn’t answer questions about the IV Waste contract on camera, citing the ongoing lawsuit.

Torres declined an on-camera interview. He tells FOX 8 Nicolosi approached IV Waste about a job. Torres considered it, then declined. Torres’ attorney told FOX 8, “Sidney is aware that David Carimi’s firm had retained Nicolosi, but that has nothing to do with Sidney or IV Waste. To imply otherwise would be unfair.”

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