Dumped On

Houston was supposed to be cracking down on polluters. So why has it spent five years cleaning up on little guys like Walter Bazarsky?

"But I hadn't ruled on it, so you had no way of knowing" if it would be granted, Stricklin told him. Then Haseman said he'd been preoccupied with the "new case" involving the search warrant.

"So we're over five years old in this case," the judge said. "Now, what could any new case possibly have to do with a November of '96 case?"

"It doesn't, Judge."

Bazarsky got hit  with felony charges, while authorities did nothing about mounds of debris dumped near his business.
Deron Neblett
Bazarsky got hit with felony charges, while authorities did nothing about mounds of debris dumped near his business.
Workers Isaro Mendoza (left) and Mario Chavez sort metal waste at B&B.
Deron Neblett
Workers Isaro Mendoza (left) and Mario Chavez sort metal waste at B&B.

Next, Haseman attempted the argument that, well, he wanted to see if a trial could be avoided by trying to work out a resolution -- apparently a plea agreement.

Blumrosen said that was nonsense and the actions were flagrant. He had records of his calls and letters that had been ignored by the prosecution, which wasn't even discussing the case. "We've been asking for discovery, begging for discovery," he said.

Stricklin stared at the lawyers in silence. He had been a veteran of the D.A.'s office -- he knew instantly when either side was putting up smoke screens.

The trial would go forward. Haseman, he ruled, could present any evidence and call any witnesses that he'd furnished to the defense by the discovery deadline. Which meant the prosecutor had no evidence or witnesses.

The next day, the case suddenly disappeared. The formal dismissal notice didn't list the reason as prosecutorial forgetfulness, vendetta, harassment or even inadequate evidence. Haseman had checked only the box marked "other," along with a noble handwritten explanation: "New Investigation Pending."

"We obtained what we believe is much better evidence," Haseman says later, when asked to explain. "Basically, in our prosecutorial discretion, we decided to hang our hat on this investigation rather than pursue the other charges."

Defendants often display exuberance after dismissals. But after five years of fighting, Walter and Pam had only momentary relief. Pam's first question to Blumrosen said it all: "Should I get a no-arrest bond for Walter? I don't want them taking him back to jail without his medication."

Walter Bazarsky, still walking slowly from the stroke, goes by the hand-painted B&B sign and into shouts of welcome from workers. They rub their hands across their shirts or trousers, removing what grime they can before shaking his hand or hugging him.

He looks bewildered at first. On this first day back, a grin gives way to a smile, then a teeth-baring laugh that the laborers share.

Inside the cramped office, Pam still works to reconstruct the business records hauled away in the raid. Son Bobby, after the death of Kathy, has remarried and is preparing for an overdue honeymoon. And Pam will soon be taking off on afternoons to shuttle the toddlers to day care.

Bazarsky is back in his special world of truck exhaust and yelling workers, all moving to the rhythm of a beeping forklift, across this stark backdrop of gray dirt, drab dustbins and semiorganized debris. Metal shards scattered along the ground light up like glitter in the sunshine.

In this setting, Bazarsky makes a convincing argument that he was an environmentalist long before it was fashionable. That tons of junked metal, otherwise headed to illegal dumps or landfills, has been reborn through his recycling business. That he was creating watertight storage containers long before any agency required them.

The optimism hides what may lie ahead. The renewal of the salvage license was delayed -- city workers said police had pulled the file. Some customers called, because investigators had been asking questions; they didn't want to be pulled into the fight.

Five years. Eight charges. Two trials. A not-guilty verdict and dismissals. Officials, defending their crusade to spare taxpayers the cleanup costs, have used more than $100,000 in public funds pursuing supposed justice for a few gallons of oily water.

The justification? Sergeant Walsh alludes to upcoming grand jury action regarding the search warrant testing. So does Haseman, as if yet another indictment were the ultimate answer against these mom-and-pop proprietors of the last four decades.

"We certainly aren't trying to get Mr. Bazarsky or his company because of anything that happened in the past," the prosecutor explains.

"Overall, citizens of Harris County can be proud of the job we are doing," Haseman concludes. As for priorities, the goal is "to prosecute every case that comes in, no matter how small it might be," he says. "Because to someone, it is a big case."

In this case, a someone named Walter Bazarsky.

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