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Wednesday, Oct 03 2012 10:46 AM

Benz will remain in Tehachapi

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Paul j. Benz General Manager of Benz Sanitation

He’s grown up with the company that his father started in 1974 and now Paul J. Benz — widely known by his nickname of “Pickle — is taking the reigns of Benz Sanitation as Paul M. Benz, 68, has agreed to leave the company as part of a plea agreement with the state Attorney General’s office.

That deal was announced last Thursday and has left many wondering about the future of the company headquartered in Tehachapi.

Last Friday Tehachapi City Manager Greg Garrett said he did not expect the action to have any impact in Tehachapi.

"I have met with Paul Benz Jr., got the details of the settlement, and we expect it to have no effect our waste hauling operation whatsoever,” Garrett said.

In an interview with the Tehachapi News on Friday, Benz Jr., General Manager of Benz Sanitation, wanted to make sure that people know that his father took the action he took to “end the drama” that has plagued the company since it began litigation with the City of Ridgecrest.

He noted that as part of the plea deal with the state Attorney General, Benz must also walk away from litigation it believes it would have won.

“He wasn’t arrested,” Benz Jr. said. “Paul (his father) fell on the sword as an individual. The company has done nothing wrong. The company was not charged with anything. The company is not going to be charged with anything.”

He also said the plea agreement will have no impact on the company’s business in the Tehachapi area.

“The city is fine,” Benz Jr. said. “we’re still picking up trash, we’re still recycling and we can stand on our numbers there. It was a simple matter of two different jurisdictions — L.A. County and Kern County. Somehow between operations and the offices wires got crossed things got switched around and we didn’t keep good enough records to prove what we had to prove when they came after us.”

He said he believes that the company would have prevailed in its litigation with the cities of Ridgecrest and California City — both represented by the same attorney. Also, that the so-called “raid” on Benz offices earlier this year was an effort by Ridgecrest to search through all of Benz records to find anything that the company might have done wrong — even though the eventual plea agreement did not affect Ridgecrest at all, Benz Jr. said.

“This could have gone on and we could have battled for years on end and the lawyers could have gotten rich,” he continued. “Paul decided that it was best to end this rather than subject his employees, their families, our family and everybody around here to all this drama. The only way he could end it is by falling on the sword himself and by relinquishing his lawsuits which spurred all this.”

The trash collection and recycling business has become very regulated, Benz Jr. noted.

“We’re in a very regulated industry with recycle and trash, it’s not like it was 20 years ago,” he said. “Now with all the recycling there’s uber amounts of reporting all the way down to the truck. People get busy, people make mistakes and they compounded on us and it turned into this big fiasco which now seems like the crime of the century. I stand firmly believing there was no crime because too many people would have had to be involved — you would have had to had everybody in the organization conspiring together.”

With the plea agreement finalized and the litigation behind them, Benz Jr. said he’s looking forward to resuming the community involvement that has long been a Benz trademark — including making continued investment in Benz-Visco field where hundreds of youngsters enjoy soccer every Saturday during the fall.

And, he said, he hopes people will understand that there is much more to the story than the announcement made by the Attorney General.

“I have over 120 families that I’m responsible for, they work for us. It’s weight on the company, let alone my family. We talked to the attorneys and said how long can this carry on and they said years. The more it carries on people would I wonder if Benz did do something. We made the decision to end it. We don’t want the accusations and everything else . We’re a very transparent company. Throughout the last four years Kern county has audited us four times They never found anything wrong. It’s not like we’re running wild over there. There’s been mistakes made, absolutely. Do I think they were criminal mistakes, not at all. They were mistakes and they have to be rectified.”

Benz continued, “I guess the main point of all of this is that we decided to end the drama and all of the cases in one action. If we would continue to fight this they would break us. They have unlimited money. Meanwhile, we don’t want to end up neglecting our current customers. We’re a pretty aggressive company going after new accounts and this takes away from that.

“It takes away from who we are,” he said. “People ask, ‘where have you guys been?’ That’s one thing we realize, we want people to see us, we want to be around. We want to get back to the core of doing business— we want to get back to doing business with people that want to do business with us.”

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