SALEM — Residents are talking a lot of trash and it's not just about the curbside pickup proposal on the ballot next week.
The proposal calls for hiring E.L. Harvey & Sons of Westborough, Mass., to collect trash and recyclables from the 8,250 homes in town.
It would cost the town $172,438 for the first six months of the five-year contract. Funding the remainder of the contract would cost an average of $445,000 per year.
But the debate has turned nasty, pitting the nine-member Municipal Solid Waste Committee against Cove Road resident Frederick Leccese, who calls himself a "concerned citizen."
Leccese is working hard to get voters to reject the proposal, which was drafted by the committee and backed by selectmen.
He claims it's ill advised and expensive.
But Leccese, who has a checkered past in the trash business himself, doesn't stop there.
In numerous newspaper advertisements, Leccese also goes after committee members and accuses them of lying to voters about the proposal.
He claims they are providing misleading information, including inaccurate costs and recycling rates.
"They say they are doing the right thing for the town, but they are not," he said. "It really saddens me that politics in town is that corrupt."
But Leccese's record in the trash business isn't exactly clean.
He pleaded guilty in June 1994 to bribing a Chelsea, Mass., trash inspector to look the other way when his trucks — operating from Atlantic Waste Systems of Lynn — dumped trash from other municipalities in Chelsea's dump.
Leccese served eight months in jail for refusing to testify before a grand jury investigating Chelsea trash contracts, according to the Boston Globe.
He admitted paying the trash inspector $200 a week for four years, according to the Globe. It cost Chelsea $263,000.
But Leccese doesn't want to talk about any of that now.
"That's irrelevant what I did in the past," he said this week. "I am not going to comment."
Longtime Chelsea official Ted Sobolewski said he remembered the scandal and Leccese well. He was the city's assistant public works director at the time. It came at a time when Chelsea was in receivership and plagued by scandals involving municipal officials, including two mayors.
"It was a mess," Sobolewski said. "There were so many different things going on."
Committee members refute accusations
Municipal Solid Committee members didn't want to say anything about Leccese personally, but they did respond to his accusations.
"We have been up front and honest with everyone," said committee chairman Pat Hargreaves, also a selectman. "I just want to make sure voters are well informed. Don't look at one side — look at both sides."
Committee member David Kincman agreed.
"We're not out to get him," Kincman said. "We have tried to report the information we have gotten."
The committee has taken out its own ads in support of the proposal.
Committee members question Leccese's motives, asking why he would pay hundreds of dollars to place ads aimed at derailing the plan.
"Some said I'm in the trash business," Leccese said. "That's totally false."
He said he used to be in the business, but hasn't worked in the industry for years.
"I have nothing to hide," he said. "I'm no angel, but I'm not the villain they are making me out to be. ... I don't have a vested interest."
Leccese said he ran Ideal Disposal in Pelham for about a year. Casella Waste Systems purchased the company in 2010. Casella operates the Salem transfer station.
For his part, Leccese claims the committee will do whatever it takes to get the curbside plan approved. He said that includes a committee member taking pictures of his workplace in Atkinson.
Committee member Ronald Wells said he received an email claiming Leccese was operating a trash business there.
"I pulled into the driveway and took a few photos and left," Wells said.
He later apologized to Leccese.
Records cast doubt on ownership
That site, on Industrial Way, is where Leccese operates Coastline Realty, incorporated in 1997.
It's in the same building as Ideal Systems.
Leccese characterized Ideal Systems as a small home improvement firm with four or five employees and a dump truck.
He said he doesn't know who owns Ideal Systems.
"I had nothing to do with that company," Leccese said.
But, incorporation papers filed with the New Hampshire Secretary of State's Office show Ideal Systems, "a residential and commercial management company," is registered in the name of Hilarie Katz.
She lives at 31 Cove Road in Salem, Leccese's home address.
There is a phone number listed for Ideal Systems in filings with the Secretary of State's Office. A call to that number was answered by Leccese.
Still, he said he didn't know Katz.
But Salem tax records show Leccese and Katz as the owners of 31 Cove Road.
Even if he did work for a trash hauler, Leccese said, it shouldn't make a difference. He said he's tired of the committee targeting him.
"Everybody is telling stories," he said. "They are like little babies."
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