Detroit Free Press from Detroit, Michigan on July 6, 1993 · Page 8
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Detroit Free Press from Detroit, Michigan · Page 8

Detroit, Michigan
Issue Date:
Tuesday, July 6, 1993
Page 8
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8 A DETROIT FREE PRESSTUESDAY, JULY 6, 1993 KING OF THE HEAP dismisses oave Nicknamed Moose because of his size, Anthony Soave was an all-city tackle on Nativity High's 1958 city championship team. He was offered a college football scholarship but turned it down. "which was very big in those days," said his football coach, Gino D'Ambrosio, who now handles ticket sales for the Detroit Tigers. "That's why he got the name Moose. "Tony was like myself . He was no bookworm. We only hit the books when we had to," D'Ambrosio said. "But he was a hard worker. If I told him to go through a wall for me, he would have gone through a wall." Soave (pronounced SWAH-yee) was an all-city tackle on Nativity's 1958 city championship team, and chosen "Mr. Athlete" by his classmates. A note next to his yearbook photo says: "By his nickname you'll know him and by his athletic ability, Nativity shall remember 'Moose.' " D'Ambrosio, a scout for the University of Iowa, said he arranged a four-year scholarship for Soave to the Big Ten school, but Soave turned it down. "Tony would have been a starter in Iowa," D'Ambrosio said. "Who knows what he could have done?" Soave said he simply did not want to leave Detroit. "I was working long weekends in the construction business and I wanted to keep doing that," he said. Soave attended the University of Detroit for two years, and eventually started his own company with a $15,000 loan from his father, according to an interview last year with Crain's Detroit Business. "Later, I got into the waste business as opportunities arose," Soave told the Free Press. Today, his sprawling, privately held business empire may have assets of more than $1 billion. Ex-coach D'Ambrosio said he's told Soave: " 'Tony, you missed an opportunity when you didn't go for a Big Ten scholarship.' "He hees and haws when I say that," D'Ambrosio said. "He just laughs." By Lori Montgomery RISE MOOSE'S Football star turned construction worker surprised many with his business success Robert McLachlan, the Crawford County Commission chairman who led the charge to approve the deal, quickly sold his trash hauling operation to Soave for $800,000 and also took a job with the company. Commissioner Joe Callewaert and other critics unsuccessfully sought a grand jury inquiry, and prompted a State Police investigation. Callewaert, a former Detroit cop, even took up surveillance of truckers using the landfill in an attempt to prove it was accepting illegal waste. In a last-ditch effort to undo the sale, critics compiled a dossier on Soave, hoping to persuade the DNR's trash overseer, deputy director James Cleary, that Soave could not be trusted. During DNR meetings at Higgins Lake, Callewaert handed Cleary the file. That was in late January 1992. A few months later, Cleary retired early from the DNR and took up a second career as a full-time adviser to Soave. Denials, deals This year came the allegations about Warren. Whether or not he was involved in the fire, Soave did indeed benefit from the demise of Oakland Disposal. Within days, Mayor Ronald Bon-kowski steered the defunct company's $16-million contract to Warren Waste Transfer, a company incorporated just a week before the firebombing by Soave and Quirino D'Alessandro, a longtime Bonkowski friend. Soave has since bought out D'Alessandro, who has been linked to a continuing federal investigation of illegal gambling and money laundering in Detroit suburbs. D'Alessandro's $1.5-million home in Clinton Township was seized by the Secret Service in September. A federal fraud indictment alleges that he paid off $1 million in gambling debts, largely with government insured loans for his house and Roseville business. D'Alessandro and Bonkowski have denied wrongdoing. An attorney for Giacalone declined to comment. James Sharp, Soave's vice president for government affairs, would not say whether Soave knows Giacalone, who is under federal indictment on conspiracy and income tax evasion charges. With the same unshakability federal informant Pree displayed last month on the witness stand, Soave friends and associates say Soave has nothing to do with the crime. "I can't imagine Tony involved in a firebombing," said one former Soave executive. "He's got too much to lose." Other former employees, business and political associates all describe him as a shrewd but honest businessman who loves nothing more than making deals. "These kinds of situations are, I would say, disturbing to anyone," said Webb, Soave's banker. "But we've known Tony for well over 20 years. ... His values and ethics give us a great deal of comfort." DNR officials, who regulate Soave's landfills, also are largely complimentary. He's cleaned up the troubled landfill in Sumpter Township, is working on the one in Waters and has offered to clean up a third, in Water-ford Township, a job that would otherwise cost the state $12 million. Soave's companies boast a spotless environmental record. While Soave ducks the spotlight, Sharp and other Soave executives like to show off City Management's state-of-the-art facilities, which include a cutting-edge power station that draws methane gas from a dump and turns it into electricity. They also pointed out tangible symbols of Soave's commitment to Detroit: He is a major investor in the Lofts apartments on East Jefferson and in Harmonie Park downtown. Soave even moved one of his com- panies and its 200 employees from the suburbs to Detroit. But for all his innovations, his fortune and his connections, Anthony Soave is for the moment tied by firebombing witness Pree to the Detroit mob and its world of strong-arm tactics and dirty deals. "Vito Giacalone knows Tony Soave," Pree testified, "and that's how this whole thing got started." Staff Writer Robin Fornoff contributed to this report. unsavory SOAVE, from Page 1A business decisions to diversify, expand through acquisitions," to "my own good business sense" and to "plain old-fashioned hard work." Nobody would dispute that Soave is a hard worker. He grew up on Detroit's blue-collar east side. At 18 he was already a bear of a man who made all-city at tackle for the Nativity High School football team. He passed up a full college scholarship to work construction. . Today, his physique is more teddy bear than grizzly, his backswept hair is white and his suits are double breasted and dapper. But it's still easy to picture Soave as a younger man, running a piece of the heavy equipment he owns. "There's two different Tony Soaves," says one former employee, who did not want his name publicly linked to Soave while the investigation is pending. "One is the recent guy who wants to have one of everything and usually can afford to get it. The other is the one that grew up in the streets with a lot of ethnic friends. "Tony's a street-smart guy, rough around the edges. But Tony don't never want to be driving no truck ever again." How it began Company lore has it that Soave's empire was conceived in 1975 with a telephone call from Michigan National Bank. Sanitas Service Corp., an out-of-state waste company, was pulling out of Michigan, leaving the bank with a trash compacting station at Harper and St. Aubin in Detroit and a leaky; smelly closed landfill in Sumpter Township. The bank asked Soave, then a small-time contractor, to take the facilities off its hands and offered him money to do it at least $250,000, according to property records. ' "We were looking for a good company to come in and take over those operations," Richard Webb, executive vice president at Michigan National, said in a recent interview. "Tony showed an interest ... and we were happy to let him take it over and run it." With that December 1975 deal came something that would prove more valuable for Soave than either property his first contract with the City of Detroit. Sanitas had an agreement to handle city garbage at the Harper station. The company had billed $650,000 in 1975. But by 1977, Soave's company, City Disposal Systems Inc., was billing Detroit $2.3 million a year. A city foreman became suspicious. The foreman alleged that Soave's station was inflating the weight of city garbage trucks by as much as 3,000. pounds and overcharging the city by as much as $10,000 a month. The city auditor, the Michigan attorney general and the Wayne County Organized Crime Task Force all launched investigations. The probes revealed some things about Soave's past. His brother, Marco, at the time a director of City Disposal, had owned a company that contracted with the Detroit Police Department to tow abandoned cars. That company, Kercheval Used Auto Parts and Wrecking Co., was investigated in 1972, after citizens complained it was snatching legally parked cars and charging drivers to retrieve them. Marco and a third Soave brother, John, formed the company in 1967, in part with cash borrowed from Peter Cilluffo, who was under indictment at the time for conspiring to run a gambling ring. The charges were dismissed. While his brothers were in the towing business, Tony Soave was arrested in 1971 in a massive FBI foray against mob-controlled sports betting. The case was thrown out of court and records of the arrest have been expunged. Also in 1971, Soave formed a part rumors nership with Frank Mudaro, who was described in 1963 hearings before the U.S. Senate as a section leader for the Mafia in Detroit. Investigative files obtained by the Free Press under the Freedom of Information Act show Mudaro earlier had been a business partner of William (Black Bill) Tocco, identified at the time as one of five ruling dons of the Detroit Mafia. During the early 1960s, Mudaro owned a Copper Kettle restaurant in Ferndale where mobsters gathered daily, according to the files. Mudaro died in 1982. According to Soave, their partnership M&S Construction and M&S Excavating lasted just two or three years. Soave said he did not know at first about Mudaro's mob ties, but recalled that Mudaro "was very upset about the allegation. He stated that he had no criminal record, that the allegation was ridiculous and he assured me there was nothing to it. I believed him." The files obtained by the Free Press show Mudaro was convicted of possession of gambling devices and disturbing the peace. Investigators on the Harper trash station case said at the time they could establish Soave's ties to mob figures, but they couldn't make a criminal case. In time, the uproar over truck weights died down, with no charges filed against anyone. Once the problem was sorted out, "the city wound up owing me money," Soave told the Free Press. "As recent experience indicates and as often happens when a company is 'tried in the press,' I was never vindicated." But the city's confidence in Soave was unshaken. The investigation was barely finished when the City Council renewed his contract for $1 million. Detroit business grows In 1981, Soave won three contracts worth at least $5.5 million. In 1987, new contracts, renewals and change orders totaled more than $15 million. In 1988, Soave companies won well over $30 million in contracts from the city and its agencies, including an exclusive contract to haul waste to and from the new Detroit incinerator. Meanwhile, a 1986 contract to haul contaminated soil from the future home of Chrysler Corp.'s Jefferson Avenue assembly plant ballooned from just under $1 million to $21.5 million as the state Department of Natural Resources demanded adherence to strict environmental standards for the project. According to a Free Press tally from Detroit City Council journals, Soave has received more than $170 million in city contracts since he agreed to buy the Harper station in 1975. The city currently is studying whether to award Soave his biggest contract yet, a 20-year pact worth up to $17.8 million a year for construction of a sludge treatment plant. Soave's empire grew outside Detroit as well. Throughout the 1980s, he formed or acquired numerous firms in at least six states, most of them related to trash, environmental cleanup and municipal services. There were exceptions. He bought beer distributorships in Illinois and Kalamazoo, and, to go with the brew, another Kalamazoo acquisition that distributes Eagle Brand snacks. He also bought a bolt manufacturer in Memphis, Tenn., a titanium company in Farmington Hills and a Lincoln-Mercury dealership in Independence, Mo. Soave and some of his executives drive white Lincoln Town Cars. By 1986, Soave Enterprises boasted 450 employees and $63 million in sales. Its president started racing a thoroughbred named Total Victory. But even bigger victories were to come. Michigan was about to undergo a trash revolution, and Tony Soave was positioned to cash in. The sky's the limit' In 1978, the Michigan Legislature passed Public Act 641, which required hen he was growing up on Detroit's east side, starring in sports at Nativity High, few people would have guessed that Tony (Moose) Soave would hit it big. "He's probably worth six times as much as anybody else, but nobody in our class ever thought Tony was ever going to be rich," said Virginia Soave, second from left, was an altar boy as a youngster. His father was an immigrant who ran a grocery at Detroit's Eastern Market. Michigan counties to submit a 20-year plan for handling their trash. The same law ushered in stiff environmental regulations governing the construction and operation of landfills. Cities, counties and some private operators could no longer afford their dumps. "It just got too complicated and expensive," said Ed Haapala, the DNR's district supervisor in Bay City. "With the closing of the municipal facilities, a huge void was created in this state, and private concerns began meeting the need." In the late 1980s, two international firms, BFI and Waste Management Inc., began scrambling to capitalize on the situation. Close behind came the upstart City Management Corp., as Soave's company was now named. "We saw an industry that was consolidating," said Webb, Soave's banker. "The regulations were squeezing out the small operator. So you end up with companies emerging that are of substantial size." As Soave put it, "My company had to get bigger, or get out" In 1989, Michigan National agreed to finance a massive expansion package for Soave, including a line of credit that gave him cash for quick deals. "It was a fairly aggressive step for us. But we were confident in Tony and I Bauman, a Nativity classmate. "He just didn't seem like a go-getter." Friends from Nativity, a Catholic school in what was then a blue-collar neighborhood just off Gratiot, remember the son of an immigrant grocer as a popular guy with a knack for charming the otherwise stern nuns. He was 6 feet 1 and 235 pounds, his team," Webb said. "When you have an aggressive entrepreneur, the sky's the limit." Suddenly, City Management seemed to be everywhere. Soave bought landfills up and down the 1-75 corridor, in Saginaw, in Flint, in Pin-conning. Able to lay cash on the table, he picked up the troubled landfill in Waters with an offer $1.5 million less than another bidder. He also scooped up the independent hauling companies that used the landfills and acquired their government contracts. City Management sales soared to $301 million in 1991, growing nearly five times in five years. Soave embarked on new hauling and landfill ventures in Florida and Missouri. Soave's 1992 acquisition of Best Way Recycling Inc., a major rival, occasioned a front-page profile in Crain's Detroit Business the first substantial account of his business in its 20 years. "I do not enjoy being center stage" is Soave's explanation for the low profile. But Soave's comfortable anonymity was not to last. He was dealing in landfills, after all, and landfills are never popular among their neighbors. Worse, citizens complained that City Management was buying more "I got into the J", than just dumps that it was buying politicians. Wherever City Management went, campaign contributions, fancy parties and invitations to watch Pistons games from Soave's luxe Palace suite often followed. "Our natural resources, our groundwater, everything becomes a bargaining chip," said Michelle Rid-dick, an anti-landfill activist in Saginaw, where City Management treated county commissioners at a swanky restaurant. "I think it's real sick and I think it's real sad." As City Management expanded north, the Waters deal was the first to draw fire. Operated by a political authority formed by Crawford and Otsego counties, the public landfill owed more than $1 million in pollution fines and was under a court order to clean up groundwater contamination when officials decided to look for a buyer to take the mess off their hands. Dealing directly with the landfill's manager, John Miller, and its attorney, James Cotant, Soave offered $3.8 million and accepted responsibility for the cleanup. Cotant and Paul Sgriccia, who oversees Soave's landfill operations, had been schoolmates at Detroit's Catholic Central High School. Miller subsequently got a job with City Management. waste business in the late 1960s. IN HIS OWN WORDS On his recent expansion On his ties to politicians On his rise in trash business ) It was J "There is really no single factor which accounts for our "I believe that my relationships . . . with all public recent growth unless it is plain old-fashioned hard servants in this state have always been of a quality work. ... My company had to get bigger or get out." nature. I hold such relationships, whether business, political or social, in the highest regard." tough going at first but I worked hard and learned. . . . I've grown with the industry and developed a certain expertise. . . . I've also been blessed with a bit of luck."

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