agents searched an undisclosed number of homes and businesses in western
late Tuesday as part of an organized crime and political corruption case that centers on the refuse hauling business.
Shortly after 5 p.m. Tuesday, dozens of agents began sifting through business records at the offices of Automated Waste Disposal Inc. in
. Automated dominates the refuse hauling business in southwestern Connecticut, and its owner was linked in federal court in the middle 1990s to mob efforts to stifle competition in the industry in Westchester County, N.Y.
Automated is owned by James E. Galante, 52, of
, who was sentenced to a year and a day in prison and fined $100,000 in 1999 for assisting in the preparation of false corporate tax returns.
FBI agents also appeared at the law offices in Danbury of Galante attorney Jack E. Garamella, a law enforcement source said late Tuesday. In addition, agents armed with search warrants were at Galante's home and the homes of several of his senior employees, said a source familiar with the investigation.
Federal law enforcement officials declined to discuss specifics of the investigation. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in
confirmed that agents had served a search warrant at the Automated offices and other unspecified locations, but would not elaborate. Three sources said federal law enforcement ``activity,'' about which they could not be specific, also was underway in Westchester and Putnam counties in New York state.
Attorney H. James Pickerstein, who is representing Galante's various business interests, declined to discuss the investigation. Pickerstein also said Galante would not comment. Garamella could not be reached.
Galante is the president or CEO of at least 21 different garbage hauling or recycling companies, most of which, according to business records, operate out of the Automated offices on White Street in Danbury. At least four of the businesses list their address as Garamella's Deer Hill Avenue office in Danbury.
Garamella is the agent of record for nearly all of Galante's Connecticut companies.
Galante also owns at least three trash hauling companies based in Westchester County, including Suburban Carting Inc., in which he is co-owner with Thomas Milo of Pelham, N.Y.
Milo emerged as a major player in the Connecticut garbage and recycling industries in the 1990s. In 1996, he was one of seven people charged by federal prosecutors in New York with mob-related racketeering, extortion and tax conspiracy charges in a 61-count indictment.
The indictment alleged that Milo and the others -- including Mario Gigante, the brother of then Genovese crime family boss Vincent ``The Chin'' Gigante -- were part of a mob cartel that used arson, bribery and violence to dominate the garbage-hauling industry in the suburbs north of
The individuals and 14 companies were accused of committing dozens of crimes in southwestern Connecticut, in five New York counties and in two
towns. The object of the conspiracy, prosecutors charged, was to avoid competition in the garbage industry by dividing suburban New York into spheres of influence controlled by individual haulers. After the indictments broke up the conspiracy, federal officials estimated that trash hauling rates dropped 50 percent in some parts of Westchester County.
Milo pleaded guilty to tax charges related to the investigation. He was sentenced to 36 months in prison and fined $3.16 million.
One law enforcement source said Galante dominates the hauling business in the western part of Connecticut through his network of companies.
Galante also owns a professional, minor league hockey team that he named the Danbury Trashers. It is part of the United Hockey League and plays in the city-owned ice rink in downtown Danbury. Galante bought the team as an 18th birthday present for his son, who is general manager.
Galante made national headlines following a game in Danbury in December 2004 when he left his skybox and became involved in a fistfight in the penalty box with one of the referees working the game.
Referee Jimmy Harper claimed Galante punched him, and Harper filed assault charges. The charges were later dropped by state prosecutors, who said they couldn't prove who started the fight. Galante was fined an undisclosed amount by the league and Harper was dismissed as a referee.
Galante and employees of his businesses have been generous contributors to Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton. Boughton could not be reached Tuesday night for comment.
Some senior city employees, who asked not be identified because they fear retribution, have said the city of Danbury allowed Galante to spend millions to quickly renovate the ice rink to comply with league standards -- but without timely city inspections for code violations. The arena was too small for league standards and needed to be expanded to a capacity of more than 3,000. The city employees said they felt pressured to quickly approve the renovations.