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Illegal dumper may pay humdinger of a fine

By BILL COATS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 3, 2002

LUTZ -- Sheriff's deputies, long frustrated by illegal dumping along Newberger Road, struck back a few days ago.

A regional sheriff's commander approaching one of Newberger's many curves Monday afternoon noticed a gray Hummer towing an empty 16-foot trailer out of the woods.

"He was coming out of an area that's clearly marked, "No trespassing,' " said Hillsborough County sheriff's Maj. Al Perotti, commander for the district including Lutz and the University of South Florida area.

Perotti pulled the truck over and soon discovered more than 150 huge chunks of water oak freshly dumped out of sight, between a pine farm and several grapefruit trees.

Deputies estimated seven tons of oak had been dumped. They charged Keith Lee Rinker of Lee's Tree Service in Seminole with a felony count of littering. And they seized the trailer and the bulky, expensive Hummer, on grounds they had been used in the commission of a felony.

Two days later, a regretful Rinker said he would promptly pick up the wood and donate it to a firewood seller. Rinker, who lives and works in Pinellas County, said he hurriedly dumped it in Lutz because he wasn't familiar with proper disposal sites in Hillsborough.

"I didn't know anyone over there," said Rinker, 43. "I was in a hurry and I did a really unethical and unintelligent thing, and that's not the kind of person I am."

Deputies and solid waste officials have long identified roads like Newberger and Van Dyke Road in Lutz as targets for illegal dumpers. They're somewhat remote, yet convenient to more active areas.

"There's less traffic, and less tendency for someone to spot someone," said Richard Mims, manager of customer service in the county's solid waste department.

Among other mischief along Newberger, "that whole area has just been a continuous problem with illegal dumping," said Perotti. "They get industrial Dumpsters-full out there at times."

Newberger's roadside has been home at times to tires, auto seats, carpet rolls, mattresses, motorcycle frames, a rusting lawn mower and a stolen engine block. "No dumping" signs have been posted, yet trash has been dumped in their shadows.

After Perotti stopped Rinker Monday afternoon, deputies soon matched the trailer to the oak piles, said Deputy Gordon Brown, the community resource officer for Lutz. The trailer contained sawdust matching the wood and a brown and orange rope that matched rope at the dump site, Brown said.

Rinker, who served Florida prison sentences in the 1980s and 1990s for cocaine trafficking, was released from the Hillsborough County Jail on $1,500 bond.

Ironically, the future of Rinker's 1995 Hummer lies partly in the judgment of Perotti's son, Michael, the Sheriff's Office's in-house attorney assigned to handle criminal forfeitures.

To keep the vehicle, the county would have to pursue a series of steps akin to a lawsuit, the younger Perotti said. But he said first a decision must be made on whether it's fair to pursue a luxury truck in a crime for which the maximum criminal fine is $5,000.

New Hummers retail for around $100,000, said Bill Eichmann, a manager at Reeves Import Motor Cars. A 7-year-old Hummer might be worth $25,000 to $30,000, Eichmann said.

James Ransom, public information officer for the solid waste department, said clean wood such as the Newberger oak chunks can be properly dumped at a county yard-waste facility for $18.76 a ton. At the estimated weight in the Newberger case, that would cost $131.32.

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