Prominent businessman Rauch denies wrongdoing in investigations

Prominent demolition contractor Steve Rauch denies any intentional wrongdoing as he faces trial next week on state illegal dumping charges and a federal probe into his contracts with the city of Dayton.

Rauch said in an exclusive interview with the Dayton Daily News that the illegal dumping allegations stem from a combination of misunderstandings and simple mistakes that the city of West Carrollton seized on to pressure him to clean up environmental damage for which he wasn’t responsible.

He also denied any knowledge of what federal agents are looking into as part of a separate corruption investigation, saying he first became aware of that probe when his office was raided in December 2016. Since then, he said, agents have provided no additional details and have made no indication he will face any sort of charges.

Federal agents announced an ongoing investigation into corruption in Dayton-area politics with the arrest of four men earlier this year. Rauch said he hasn’t witnessed rampant corruption in his decades of getting public contracts from Dayton and other area governments.

RELATED: Ex-Dayton commissioner, state lawmaker arrested; more arrests coming, feds say

“If it’s there I don’t know anything about it,” he said.

Rauch is scheduled to appear Tuesday for trial in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court on the illegal dumping charges.

The Ohio Attorney General’s Office and the state Environmental Protection Agency allege Rauch improperly dumped solid waste at a site owned by West Carrollton, on his Jefferson Twp. cattle farm and at his building debris landfill in Dayton.

The site owned by West Carrollton was the land on Hydraulic Road that formerly housed a wastewater treatment plant used by the paper company Appvion. Appvion deeded it to the city in 2015, stipulating it be used for recreation. The city began to fill “trenches” as part of redevelopment plans.

RELATED: New details emerge in Rauch illegal dumping case

Soil tests done in 2001 confirmed that toxic polychlorinated biphenyls — or PCBs — were located underground at the site and the city was aware of the chemicals, West Carrollton City Manager Brad Townsend has said. West Carrollton plans to seek EPA grant money to clean up the site.

‘Strictly an accident’

After receiving the land, the city gave Rauch and other contractors permission to dump certain materials on the site, which the city aims to redevelop for recreation use.

Rauch is accused of dumping improper items there, including 30 tons of mattresses and other items from a hotel his workers tore down.

Rauch said it was a mistake. He said drivers of a couple of trucks — which carry more than 15 tons each — accidentally dumped material at the city site instead of his landfill where it would have been separated and disposed of properly.

“It was strictly an accident,” he said in the interview at his office next to his landfill on Soldiers Home-West Carrollton Road. “If they had followed directions and brought it here when I told them to bring it here, we would have separated it out.”

Rauch denied allegations made in court filings that he directed his drivers to take certain routes to avoid detection or that he blew off warnings from an employee about dumping things improperly.

“We’ve been in business for 40 years,” he said. “We don’t avert any kind of laws.”

City wasn’t following guidelines

When the illegal material was discovered in 2016, the city of West Carrollton was not following proper disposal guidelines, said Tom Hut of Public Health Dayton-Montgomery County.

A notice of intent is required to be filed with Public Health in order to bury “clean hard fill,” Hut said. West Carrollton had not provided notice to the health agency, he said.

“Initially they didn’t give us notice, but since then they have — and they have done so” several times since, Hut said.

Rauch said he learned about the mistake from West Carrollton officials. But at that point he also learned that the property was also contaminated with PCBs. Rauch said he wanted direction from Ohio EPA before digging anything out of there, but West Carrollton forged ahead and cleaned up the stuff without EPA approval.

“I was advised it was a hazardous waste site and didn’t want to put my guys or any of my people involved in that site (out there) until we took direction from the EPA,” he said. “I never said I wouldn’t have taken them out of there, but I was waiting on EPA to give us direction.”

RELATED: Rauch ordered illegal dumping cover-ups, unsealed warrants allege

Rauch said he believes West Carrollton is going after him to help cover the cost of cleaning up “sludge pits” of PCBs left by the paper company.

“West Carrollton seized on an opportunity because of those polluted sludge pits they got down there and they apparently were trying to cover them up with concrete and dirt so they didn’t have to clean them up,” Rauch said. “I think they looked at us as pockets to help them clean the sludge and pits up.”

West Carrollton city officials declined to respond to Rauch’s claims, citing the pending case.

West Carrollton has applied for a $200,000 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant to address the contamination issue, though old business filings suggest cleaning up the property could cost millions.

Other dumping

In addition to the West Carrollton property, Rauch is accused of dumping improper material on a cattle farm he owns in Jefferson Twp. called Bearcreek Farms, as well as his SRI construction and demolition debris landfill in Dayton.

Rauch said the alleged improper fill at the landfill was just material that hadn’t yet been sorted and disposed of the day state and federal agents raided the dump.

“The situation of it is the day of the raid, they had everybody go home,” he said. “So when that material was there at the site, it was still in the unloading zone and it would have just been hand-picked and it would have been no problem.”

The material that ended up at his cattle farm was glass from Fuyao Glass America. Rauch said he was subcontracted to remove waste from Fuyao that the Moraine auto glass manufacturer’s employees were supposed to separate into four bins.

There was solid waste that Rauch’s workers were to take to the county landfill, construction debris he could dispose of at his landfill, glass he planned to sell to a recycler, and wood he intended to grind down into bedding for his cattle.

“Apparently in the evening or whatever, either their people couldn’t read the signs or didn’t know what the signs meant,” Rauch said. He said that glass was thrown into the bins meant for wood and delivered to the farm.

Rauch said the glass was moved to his landfill within days, where it remains in containers awaiting Ohio EPA approval to sell it for recycling.

Court records allege that Rauch employees told West Carrollton police they were ordered to bury solid waste in Rauch’s landfill to hide it from health inspectors. The records also say they were ordered to hide Fuyao glass from inspectors by moving them to the farm.

RELATED: Rauch, manager both may testify in Dayton-area businessman’s EPA case

Corruption case

Rauch runs a demolition company, a trucking firm, a landfill business and a sprawling local farm operation. His businesses employ more than 100 people, he said. They get millions of dollars in local and federal projects, in addition to private sector customers.

He gives money to both political and charitable causes. He has been a major campaign supporter in several local races, and has contributed millions to area charities. The walls of his office on the landfill property are covered with plaques thanking him for buying champion steers from the Ohio State Fair and other donations.

During some of the dates when inspectors were on his property, Rauch was on a trip to Africa with executives from Kettering Medical Center. He made a $1.5 million donation to the hospital’s cancer center.

RELATED: How Steve Rauch grew $500 into multimillion-dollar demo contracts

Rauch said he first learned he was part of a federal investigation in December 2016 when his property was raided by a joint task force led by the U.S. Secret Service. Rauch said he wasn’t sure what materials federal agents seized.

“I don’t know what they were looking for but apparently they didn’t find anything,” he said.

He said federal agents haven’t questioned him, and there is no connection he knows of between the state dumping case and the federal case.

Rauch said he assumes he came onto the feds’ radar because he employed some of the same people as Cincinnati-based Evans Landscaping, whose executives were convicted last year of defrauding minority set-aside programs.

A federal subpoena issued to Dayton in 2017 and revealed by the Dayton Daily News earlier this year demanded records related to Rauch's companies and a minority-owned company named Green Star Trucking owned by former Trotwood Mayor Joyce Sutton-Cameron.

Rauch said he still uses Green Star and has never dealt with a minority-owned company he suspected of set-aside fraud.

Rauch was an early campaign supporter of former city commissioner Joey Williams, who recently pleaded guilty to soliciting bribes as part of the federal corruption probe. But Rauch said Williams never asked for anything from him.

RELATED: Ex-city commissioner Joey Williams pleads guilty, apologizes to ‘citizens of Dayton’

“Joey was never that kind of a person with me. I always respected Joey, his wife, his children, and I thought he was a role model,” Rauch said.

Rauch also supported the campaigns of former state lawmaker Clayton Luckie, though he said he hadn't seen Luckie after he got out of prison for campaign finance fraud and again got into legal trouble. Luckie pleaded guilty to defrauding Dayton's minority set-aside program and is awaiting sentencing.

He said he doesn't know the other two men charged by the feds: city employee RoShawn Winburn or local businessman Brian Higgins. He said he never exchanged anything of value for public work.

RELATED: City investigating after corruption charges allege contracting fraud in Dayton

“I’m going to tell you what, we work for our money and we’re not interested in shortcuts so I wouldn’t be involved in any of that kind of carryings-on,” he said.