A LOAD OF SCRAP

Tony Ribaudo's failed effort in the scrap-iron business leaves the former state lawmaker and mayoral candidate with citations for illegal dumping and a $28,000 debt to the city

Andrew DiGiuseppi says the scrap business is "not for the weak of heart," comparing it to commodity trading. DiGiuseppi has been in the business for 20 years and first approached Ribaudo about leasing the Andrew brothers' business with an option to buy. At the time, the deal had potential.

"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to do this kind of business," says DiGiuseppi. "It's the ultimate in recycling. We take a lot of stuff that would normally go into a landfill, like junk automobiles and appliances, and we recycle that stuff. It goes back to the steel mills, (then is) melted down and made into new products.

"It's been a good business for a lot of years, but the cycle turned down," says DiGiuseppi, who parted ways with Ribaudo in November and now works in the scrap-iron business on the East Side. He blames scrap dumping by Russia, Japan and Brazil for the plummeting price of scrap. Andrew, who was retained by Ribaudo as a consultant to the business, recalls that when the scrap market bottomed out last summer, Laclede Steel was buying foreign scrap by the bargeload for up to $50 a ton less than the price of domestic scrap.

With that type of competition and few protectionist moves by the federal government, many scrap businesses went bust, according to DiGiuseppi. Had the Andrew brothers not leased the business to Ribaudo, they might have faced the same fate. As for the dumping of demolition debris, that came after DiGiuseppi was gone.

"That all happened after I left. I don't have a clue on how that occurred. That's Tony Ribaudo and his brother — they had a big hand in the demolition-trash dumping. I don't know who they were involved with; I was gone three or four months before all that started happening," DiGiuseppi says. "When I took over the yard, I spent like $25,000 cleaning the place up. Then I heard he was putting trash in there, way after I left, and I said, "Boy, that's a heartbreak.' But what are you going to do?"

What Andrew is planning to do now is what he wanted to do a year ago: get out of the business and retire. His brother Dan, 82, is in ill health. Brother Jerry, who was working as a consultant to Ribaudo, is 71. A bitter and somewhat wiser Marvin Andrew sees that what he first saw as a plus about Ribaudo may not, in the end, work in his favor.

At the start, Andrew was glad Ribaudo was politically connected. "He knew everybody," Andrew recalls. "I told him we had a no-lose situation. The only factor he had against him was that he knew nothing about the business."

Ribaudo was a state representative from 1976-1994. He ran for mayor in 1993, finishing third behind victorious Freeman Bosley Jr. and aldermanic President Tom Villa. Ribaudo's 12.5 percent of the vote split the white South Side and enabled Bosley, who became the city's first African-American mayor, to win with 44 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary, the election that virtually determines who will be the next mayor. Although Ribaudo entered the race before Villa, it is widely held that Ribaudo's decision to remain a candidate sealed Villa's fate.

Ribaudo no longer lives on the Hill, preferring instead a house in Town & Country with a $384,000 mortgage. His flamboyant political past includes involvement with the controversial Floyd Warmann riverfront lease in the early 1990s, as well as lawsuit-littered campaigns for his state-representative seat. Ribaudo's stock may have declined — longtime opponent Tom Bauer is now the alderman from Ribaudo's old district. Although Ribaudo is on the staff of state Sen. Lacy Clay, most of the time when his name appears in the paper it's a name-dropping in a Jerry Berger column.

But Ribaudo does have a past, and now that this business has unraveled, Andrew worries that Ribaudo's political connections will help shield him from making retribution.

"For some reason, his name is so powerful he gets away with everything," says Andrew.

Much of the hangover from a business deal gone bad can be forgotten, but the rubble remains: "We didn't put it in there. He illegally put it in there and made no attempt whatsoever to get it out. But he was paid for having it put in there."

As for getting any satisfaction from his lawsuits, Marvin Andrew is not optimistic.

"I'm suing them for a certain amount of money, but I'll tell you what's going to happen: It'll get to the court and the judge will say, "What we got here? Mr. Andrew is suing for such-and-such.' His lawyer — Tony won't be there — is going to say, "Your honor, we're filing Chapter 11. We're a corporation, and we're defunct.' That's all. And you can wipe your nose."

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