A Johnston hauling company paid Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation (RIRRC) more than $37 million since 2017, under the landfill’s former boss, according to financial data released …
A Johnston hauling company paid Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation (RIRRC) more than $37 million since 2017, under the landfill’s former boss, according to financial data released following a Beacon Communications public records request.
Then J.R. Vinagro Corp. poached the quasi-public state agency’s executive director as its new CEO.
Beacon Communications (publisher of the Johnston Sun Rise, Warwick Beacon and Cranston Herald) submitted a formal public records request to RIRRC for “documentation linked to any payments from J.R. Vinagro Corporation to RIRRC during the tenure of former Executive Director Joseph Reposa.”
Beacon Communications (via the Johnston Sun Rise) has submitted more than a dozen requests since Reposa resigned from his job in December and immediately went to work for Vinagro.
Initially, RIRRC demanded pre-payment of $900 for public records detailing “any payments, receipts, accounts payable, accounts receivable, contracts, projects or any other interaction between J.R. Vinagro Corporation and RIRRC during the tenure of (Reposa).”
In response, Beacon Communications filed an Open Meetings Violation complaint, challenging the demand for pre-payment (and several other records requests that went unfulfilled) with Rhode Island Attorney General Peter F. Neronha’s office. The landfill had 10 days to respond to the complaint.
Beacon Communications also filed a narrower public records request, seeking documentation for “any payments from J.R. Vinagro Corporation to RIRRC” during Reposa’s tenure (although we have not withdrawn our initial public records request).
On Tuesday, Jan. 23, attorney Joseph J. Rodio Jr. (RIRRC outside counsel) requested an extension to respond to the AG.
“Due to some previously scheduled Board meetings and hearings, and some absences at RIRRC, I am requesting an extension to file RIRRC’s answer from Jan. 25, to Feb. 2,” Rodio wrote to staff in the AG’s Open Government Unit. A few hours later, Colleen Cole, administrative assistant in the AG’s Civil Division, approved the extension.
Later that same afternoon, RIRRC Public Records Officer Jared Rhodes responded to the narrower request, forwarding documentation detailing Vinagro’s payment history between June 19, 2017 and Jan. 22, 2024.
Vinagro and its subsidiaries (for aggregate, trash and soil disposal) paid RIRRC a “grand total” of $37,370,122.16 while Reposa served as the landfill’s top executive.
“Accordingly, we have previously provided you with the first hour for free,” Rhodes wrote. “However, in order to estimate the time for search and retrieval of all documentation linked to such payments, we generated the attached accounts receivable summary report which we are providing along with a separate report that reflects potential payments made outside of the accounts receivable system which were readily available at no cost.”
For further documentation linked to these payments, RIRRC demanded an additional $150 from Beacon Communications before it fulfilled the request.
“Based on the summary and review, we estimate that retrieving and providing all documents linked to such payments to take approximately 10 hours,” Rhodes wrote. “The cost for search and retrieval efforts for these documents will be $15 per hour, with the initial hour already expended being free. Accordingly, if you still wish for RIRRC to proceed with all related documentation please provide pre-payment of $150.”
The goal, however, was to obtain a clearer picture of Vinagro’s relationship with RIRRC. With more than $37 million in receipts in hand, the relationship appears profitable.
“I don't think it was appropriate for that transaction,” Johnston state Rep. Deborah A. Fellela (District 43) responded via email early Wednesday morning. “For them to approach the CEO of the landfill seems improper. Where are the ethics in such a move? To me there is no allegiance and I feel there will be no trustworthiness in the policies that RIRRC has put forth.”
Does It Matter?
Vinagro has recently taken over the Warwick headquarters of the former Cardi Corp., a Rhode Island road and bridge contractor on the hook for massive unfinished projects across the Ocean State.
Reposa quit RIRRC in December and announced his hiring as Vinagro CEO on LinkedIn, a social networking website for professionals.
While employed by RIRRC, Reposa worked under a contract that stipulated he would not share trade secrets learned on the job at the Central Landfill with competitors and customers. The contract also included a non-compete clause. Records requests also revealed that Reposa was earning a $253,239.48 annual salary at RIRRC, plus a $25,000 annual performance bonus, before he quit and took the helm at Vinagro, a private company in the same town.
“Even though RIRRC is a quasi-public, as a former employee Mr. (Reposa) is subject to the state's Code of Ethics,” according to John Marion, executive director of Common Cause RI. “One important part of the Code is the revolving door law. It doesn't appear that the revolving door would prevent (Reposa) from taking the position with Vinagro, but it does place some important restrictions on his employment there. (Reposa) likely can't, for instance, appear before the RIRRC board for up to a year after he left the agency. He's also prohibited from using information he gained during his time with the agency to benefit his new employer. The prohibition against the use of confidential information is really tricky to enforce, however.”
Vinagro representatives have not responded to requests for comment since Reposa took over as CEO.
“Unfortunately it's common in state and federal government for people to move from government to industry, trading on their public service for personal gain,” Marion wrote Wednesday morning. “It's particularly precarious when an employee moves to one of the major contractors for the agency they previously managed.”
Opinions differ among Johnston’s public officials on whether Reposa’s move to Vinagro should raise concerns.
“I’ve always known Joe Reposa to be a good man and J.R. Vinagro to be an excellent local company as well as a good corporate citizen to the town,” said Johnston Mayor Joseph M. Polisena Jr. “I’m not experienced in waste management or construction management so I can’t speak to any non-compete or overlapping trade secrets. But I can say Joe Reposa has a very long resume and if Vinagro is expanding it makes sense they’d want to go with someone that’s both familiar to them, so they know the past quality of work and what they’re getting, but also has the requisite experience needed to help manage a multimillion-dollar corporation.”
Many elected officials may not have the information they need to form an opinion. RIRRC legal counsel requires all requests for information follow official public records request procedures. Payments from Vinagro, and Reposa’s contract with RIRRC, were only provided following Beacon Communications’ multiple official public records requests.
“I am sorry but I really have no knowledge of the contract or arrangements made between the former Executive Director/CEO of RIRRC and RIRRC nor the arrangements if any made involving J.R. Vinagro,” Johnston Town Councilman Robert J. Civetti wrote via email Wednesday morning. “J.R. Vinagro is a large private company and I am guessing that the attorneys for the Corporation did the proper due diligence needed before the hiring. I am also confident that if the contract between the RIRRC and their former CEO was violated that the Board of Directors and the attorneys for this ‘Quasi State Agency’ would take the appropriate action to seek remediation.”
The Johnston Sun Rise reached out to a large swath of Ocean State elected officials for comment on Reposa’s move to J.R. Vinagro (and Vinagro’s Cardi Corp. HQ takeover).
Only Civetti, Fellela and Polisena responded.
As of press-time Wednesday morning, the Sun Rise had not heard back from the offices of Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee, Attorney General Peter F. Neronha, or Rhode Island House Speaker Rep. K. Joseph Shekarchi.
“Although Vinagro does run a recycling facility is it the same recycling as done by RIRRC?” Civetti asked. “I simply do not know enough about the agreements or operations of Vinagro which is probably the same reason many others cannot give you an opinion.”
On Wednesday morning, the Sun Rise sent Rodio an official request for comment as RIRRC outside counsel (but not an official records request): “Any legal concerns with a landfill customer of this magnitude hiring the executive director as its CEO? Reposa's contract with RIRRC stipulated he would not share trade secrets learned on the job at the Central Landfill with competitors and customers. No? The contract also seems to include a non-compete clause. Would this move, to a private company and customer in the same town, violate any terms of the former executive director's contract (those clauses that extend beyond the terms of the contract)? Have any board members raised concerns?”
The Sun Rise did not receive a response by deadline.
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