Donald V. Watkins
“Racketeering” In Valley, Alabama?
By: Donald V. Watkins
Copyrighted and Published on December 8, 2022
An Editorial Opinion
“Welcome to Valley, Alabama, where people care and share,” is how the City of Valley describes itself. In reality, Valley, Alabama is a city that uses its criminal powers to shake-down elderly, sick, and poor residents who cannot afford to pay their trash collection bills.
Since 2012, the City of Valley, Alabama has engaged in an ongoing pattern and practice of arresting its residents for unpaid trash bills. The City Code attempts to legalize this form of extortion by making the failure of a resident to pay his/her trash bill a misdemeanor offense that is punishable with a fine of not less than $50 and not more than $200. And, each day that the Valley resident does not pay his/her overdue and unpaid trash bill “shall constitute a separate offense and shall be punished accordingly.”
The City of Valley has the express power in City Code Section 58-124 to exempt elderly, sick, and poor residents from paying her trash bill if their sole source of income is Social Security benefits. Instead of using this power, the city has steadfastly pursued an unconscionable course of action of arresting its citizens and forcing them to pay their trash bills, whether they can afford it or not.
Valley Contracts with AmWaste for Waste Management Services
The City of Valley contracts with AmWaste for garbage collection and disposal services. AmWaste is an affiliate of a privately-owned, integrated waste management company called Matter Management, which has 16 different holding companies across Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana.
Matter Management operates in a highly regulated industry. It appears that the company also engages in interstate commerce. AmWaste seems to be entangled in the growing scandal in which the City of Valley arrests elderly, sick, and poor residents for not paying they trash bills.
It is unknown at this time whether the City of Valley pursues the arrest of its residents for unpaid trash bills, at the request of AmWaste. It is also unknown whether AmWaste shares in the proceeds from the city’s misdemeanor arrest scheme. These are matters that must be probes by investigators from the U.S Department of Justice.
The City of Valley’s ongoing abuse of the criminal justice system can be viewed as “racketeering.” The term “racketeering” broadly refers to state and federal criminal acts such as extortion, bribery, money laundering, financial and economic crimes, gambling offense, obstructing justice, drug offenses, and murder for hire that are performed on an ongoing basis. Racketeering conduct is a conspiracy if it two or more parties participate in the illegal business enterprise.
The term “racketeering” is often used to describe patterns of illegal activity specified in the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). This is a U.S. federal law that makes it illegal to acquire, control, or operate a business enterprise through certain crimes or income from those crimes. It is also illegal to participate, even indirectly, in certain crimes committed by a business or to conspire to do any of the above under the Act.
Scores of Victims
Since 2012, scores of Valley residents have been victimized by the city’s ongoing scheme of criminalizing unpaid trash bills. The victims are black and white, mostly elderly, often poor, and sometimes physically infirmed.
Ms. Martha Louis Menefield is the latest known victim of the city’s scheme to criminalize poverty. On November 29, 2022, the City of Valley publicly announced Ms. Menefield’s arrest for her unpaid trash bill on its Facebook page. This act amounted to a "victim shaming" and the public humiliation of Ms. Menefield, who is 82-years-old.
The arrest of Ms. Menefield for failing to pay her trash bill ignited a firestorm of criticism against the City of Valley throughout the state and around the nation. Once again, Alabama has been cast in a very negative light in the eyes of the nation.
Remarkably, no city, county, or state official has stepped forward to condemn the City of Valley’s abuse of the criminal justice system in these cases.
The practice of criminalizing Alabama’s poor, sick, and elderly citizens for civil debts must stop. Those who perpetrated and profited from the City of Valley’s horrendous debt collection scheme must be investigated, indicted, tried, convicted, and imprisoned. I will work to make sure this happens.
I will also ask the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Federal Trade Commission to investigate the role of Management Matters and AmWaste in the City of Valley’s disgraceful “arrest for unpaid trash bills” scheme.
I firmly believe that federal regulatory and law enforcement agencies should thoroughly probe this hot mess in the city, “where people care and share.”