A man was dumping massive piles of trash under a N.J. highway, A.G. says. Now he faces years in prison.

Posted Feb 28, 2019

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal speaks to a reporter at the site of an alleged illegal dumping operation underneath the I-78 and Route 22 overpass in Newark, NJ on February 28, 2019. 

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It was a million-dollar mess, and now it could send a man to prison for half of a decade.

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced Thursday the indictment of Abdullah Bryant, a 40-year-old Newark man who allegedly spent more than a year illegally dumping huge amounts of solid waste underneath highways in the city.

Bryant allegedly collected, transported and dumped more than 100 cubic yards of solid waste at a site owned by the New Jersey Department of Transportation underneath the I-78 and Route 22 overpasses between Frelinghuysen Avenue and the Northeast Corridor Rail Line in Newark’s East Ward.

It’s the exact location where on August 8, 1989, a previous illegal dump caught fire and caused the I-78 overpass to collapse.

Bryant is also accused of running a smaller dumping operation underneath the Route 21 overpass near Poinier Street.

For the two alleged dumping sites, Bryant faces six different third-degree offenses: Illegal collection of solid waste, illegal transportation of solid waste, illegal disposal of solid waste, vandalizing railroad property and two counts of criminal mischief.

Third-degree offenses carry a sentence of three to five years in state prison and a fine of up to $15,000. If convicted and sentenced to prison, Bryant would likely serve the punishment for each charge concurrently.

“Far too frequently polluters will dump waste and hazardous materials in disadvantaged areas, where they believe they can violate the law with impunity,” Grewal said. “Today we send a clear message to illegal dumpers: if you pollute our communities, not only will we pursue you with civil actions, we will prosecute you criminally."

The dumping allegedly occurred between January 2016 and April 2017. According to Grewal, Bryant conducted the dumping under various business names, including International Rubbish Removal, without the proper licenses for handling solid waste.

The dump field under I-78 and Route 22 was about 1,000-feet long and 500 feet wide, while the dump under Route 21 was about 1,200-feet long and up to 150-feet wide. The solid waste at both sites included asbestos, lead paint, flammables and construction materials among other trash.

Grewal said the charges against Bryant were the result of a nearly two-year-long investigation. The Attorney General’s Division of Criminal Justice was first made aware of the I-78 dump by the NJDOT’s Inspector General in March 2017. NJ Transit police reported the Route 21 site later that month.

Once the sites had been found, Grewal said state investigators spent time going piece-by-piece through the trash piles to identify what made-up the solid waste, and where that solid waste came from.

Grewal said that Bryant advertised his business online and brought in waste from various towns across the state. It is unclear at this point how much money Bryant made from this operation.

Both sites have been cleaned up for a combined estimated cost of $1.7 million.

News of Bryant’s indictment comes as Grewal’s office is pursuing civil action against Joseph Wallace, a Sussex County man who that state has found to have spent recent years operating an 75-foot-tall illegal dump at his personal property in Vernon Township. Grewal said the state is open to pursuing criminal charges against Wallace if appropriate evidence is found.

The state action came after NJ Advance Media published an in-depth report on Wallace’s activities.

Illegal dumping is a statewide problem, according to Grewal. He said that his office is committed to prosecuting environmental crimes, particularly through county prosecutors.

“We care about the people in Vernon and we care about our inner cities, where dumping has been ignored for far too long,” Grewal said.

Last year, Grewal’s enforcement of environmental crimes focused on civil action. In August, the Attorney General filed the state’s first lawsuits related to natural resource damages in a decade. In December, Grewal’s office announced the creation of a new environmental justice unit.

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