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By Sam Levin
The scrap-iron business, a rough trade, may have seemed like a good match for veteran political backroom dealer Tony Ribaudo, the longtime state representative and unsuccessful mayoral candidate. But it didn't work out.
After just a year in business at a scrapyard off Hall Street, near the Mississippi River, Ribaudo's venture in the buying and selling of leftover metals has gone belly-up, leaving the former power broker from the Hill owing the city $28,231.90 for scrap metal he bought and citations from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for dumping construction debris without a permit.
Ribaudo is also being sued by Marvin Andrew, the owner of A-1 Iron and Metal, 635 E. Clarence Ave., who had leased the business to Ribaudo in March 1998. Andrew accuses Ribaudo of breaching their contract and defacing the business by illegally dumping tons of rubble at the scrapyard.
Ribaudo is playing down the deal, saying he was "just an investor" in the business, a claim disputed by Andrew and co-workers in the scrap business during the time Ribaudo was involved. The most recent DNR notice of violation, dated June 9, was sent both to Andrew who owned the land where Ribaudo leased the business and directly to Ribaudo at his new business, STL Transfer, 3225 Chouteau Ave.
"It's a junkyard. Ever been down there? It's a recycling yard," Ribaudo says by way of explanation for the dumping of construction debris. "You find that these units come in, half with iron, half with wood, half with everything.... They've been dumping down there since 1946, so it's nothing unusual, OK?"
Andrew, a 64-year-old lifer in the scrap-iron trade, doesn't see it that way. Most of the debris had nothing to do with metal salvage; it's clear that much of the refuse is concrete, wood, plastic and miscellaneous remnants of construction and demolition. A DNR spokesperson confirms that no history of similar citations existed at that address before Ribaudo leased the business. The way Andrew sees it, when the bottom dropped out of the scrap market, Ribaudo knew his business was headed for the ditch and wanted a way to get some cash.
"He knew he wasn't going to ship it back out or clean it up," Andrew says. "He made money on it coming in because he was letting the people come in and dump cheap instead of going to the regular landfill. But he was dumping 25 loads a week. To ship it back out, the cost would be triple what he was letting 'em dump it for. But that wasn't on his mind his mind was on getting some money in his pocket, because he was going down."
Since Ribaudo was evicted from the property in early June, Andrew has received estimates ranging from $40,000-$100,00 to clean up the debris Ribaudo left behind.
One of Ribaudo's last acts when the scrap venture came to a bad end was remedied recently when police visited him to inquire about some of the things he took from A-1 Iron and Metal when he was evicted. Andrew says Ribaudo was told by the bank to "take everything that wasn't bolted down" in order to help repay the loan but that Ribaudo's hirelings got a bit carried away with what they carried away. Scale registers were unscrewed from the wall; metal platforms from the scales were removed; a small refrigerator was taken, as was a paper-towel dispenser. Even a stash of toilet paper disappeared.
"He was told by the bank to take everything that wasn't bolted down," says Andrew. "But who's going to take the refrigerator? Who's going to take the paper-towel dispenser off the wall? Who's going to take all the rolls of toilet paper out of the bathroom?"
"My brother Jerry just bought it from Sam's," says Andrew of the toilet paper. "He was raising hell. He spent almost 30 bucks on toilet paper."
After a visit from the police, Ribaudo returned most of the goods, including the scale platforms, a desk, a soda machine and the refrigerator. Again, Ribaudo doesn't see what all the fuss is about.
"There were certain items that were pledged to the bank as part of the loan," says Ribaudo. "Once it was cleared with the bank, they got the items back I mean small stuff, like desks, OK? No big deal, OK?"
What remains a big deal is the refuse left on the 4.5-acre site of A-1 Iron and Metal, the business owned by Andrew and his two older brothers since 1951. They had leased it to Ribaudo with an option to buy, with the idea of getting out of the business. They are still trying to sell the land and the business, but the dumped trash proved an obstacle during negotiations with a potential buyer who wanted to use the property to stack freight containers.
Walking around his scrapyard, Andrew recalls the terms of the deal with Ribaudo: "We leased the business to him to operate a scrap-iron and recycling business. And unless I'm drunk, this is not scrap iron or recycling," Andrew says, gesturing at the rubble. "He actually defaced the recycling business. I had other people in here looking at this. I had a commercial Realtor come in here, and he laughed at me. He said, "You get this cleaned up, and I can sell this place for you in no time.'" "A no-lose situation"