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What's in a Name? Heights Recycler's Fate to be Decided in Court

Both sides have a lot to lose as Intercon Solutions and the Basel Action Network explain the goals their lawsuits.

With lawsuits from both sides, the legal fight between the Basel Action Network and Intercon Solutions is a struggle for credibility and survival.

BAN founder Jim Puckett said his goal with BAN's counterclaim is to get the truth, namely for Intercon to stop trying to ruin his organization's credibility within the recycling industry. But if Intercon were to admit fault, the Chicago Heights company could essentially be signing its own death warrant.

Not only is Intercon CEO Brian Brundage seeking vindication, he wants to vanquish.

"My goal, at this point, is to put them out of business," Brundage said. "If I get any kind of a judgment against them they’ll fold. If I get a $1 million judgment they’ll fold. They can’t afford to pay it. They’ve got $400,000 in assets."

But doing away with BAN would just be the tip of the iceberg for Brundage, who suggested his company might also fill the void afterward.

"Maybe I’ll start a new standard and call it the Intercon Standard," he added. "At least it’ll be fair."

The BAN Name

Jim Puckett's credibility as an environmental watchdog has always been valuable, and despite his role in the industry there are many recyclers who are happy to have BAN around. Puckett's still-young E-Stewards standard has gained support among many recyclers for being one of the more stringent and coveted new standards.

Karrie Gibson, president of Vintage Tech Recyclers in Romeoville, compared E-Stewards to the older R2 certification, which is held by about 10 percent of U.S. recyclers.

"We earned our (E-Stewards) certification this year in May," Gibson said. "When R2 came out, everybody thought it was the greatest thing. We were the 13th company to earn it. Now there are almost 300."

Gibson said her company has been through many audits, and she considers the E-Stewards audit to be one of the more intensive, with an emphasis on investigating who is doing business with the applying company.

"R2 is a good start, but it does not monitor the processing system as thoroughly as E-stewards," Gibson added. "Our company is stronger by having both certifications as E-Stewards has some additional focus areas that R2 does not monitor. Early on, R2 played a critical roll in helping companies establish best practices in the industry, but like evolution in every industry e-Stewards came along and elevated the responsibility of the certified recyclers."

Just 37 of the roughly 3,000 recycling firms in America hold an E-Stewards Certification. About 10 more are in the process of obtaining one, according to Puckett.

The intensity of the audit and small number of certified businesses give BAN's program an air of prestige and recyclers an upper hand in getting contracts, according to Cascade Asset Management CEO Neil Peters-Michaud.

"Some companies will only deal with E-Stewards certified companies," Peters-Michaud said. "They were interested in this standard. Market opportunity was the No. 1 reason we went for it. It also matched our values as a company."

If Intercon proves in court that BAN really did use the E-Stewards program to defame a recycler with false accusations, that prestige will be gone, along with the watchdog's good name.

The Intercon Name

Before being publicly branded a fraud, Intercon was a rising power player in the recycling industry, holding contracts with the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of Defense, Union Pacific, the City of Chicago, Ericsson Wireless and the Chicago Sun-Times.

Willie Cade, CEO of PC Rebuilders and Recyclers in Chicago, said his company still does business with Intercon. As an R2-certified business, Cade is required to have audits performed on his downstream vendors, and he said Intercon checks out.

"Intercon is fine," Cade said. "They know the CRT rule and the CRT rule is very specific. ... I thought for sure, given the way the initial press came out, that Jim had got ‘em. But then you start reading it, and you go, ‘Wait a minute. There’s no proof here.'"

Despite the claims of some former employees, Brian Brundage said he prides himself on treating his employees like family. That's why he has a free on-site gym and, until recently, provided free lunch.

"I was spending more than $130,000 per year on lunch," Brundage said. "Since business has been down, I had to stop that."

Damario Walker, who started out as an intern and moved up in the ranks to the role of warehouse manager, said many of Intercon's employees are thankful to still have a job.

"We would rather lose free lunch than lose our jobs," Walker said, noting that many employees lost both as business slowed down.

Former Intercon employee Bryan Kerschner, who worked for one of Intercon's satellite facilities in Tampa, FL, spoke to the immediate effect of Puckett's public letter to Brundage.

"Within 15 minutes, I had some of my customers already calling me to figure out what the story was and cancel their orders," Kerschner said. "I lost my two largest accounts after that story broke. That was about 50 percent of my income gone."

Kerschner left the company eight months later, but thinks highly of Intercon. "I really enjoyed working at Intercon and it went really well for me," Kerschner said. "Brian actually flew us out to Chicago to see the whole process of how they break material down."

Latest Legal Moves

If BAN's claims about Intercon are proven to be true in court, the recycler could lose more customers, more employees and more money, along with what's left of its good reputation.

On Sept. 19, Intercon's attorney Cathy Pilkington filed a motion to have the watchdog's counterclaim dismissed, calling it "legally deficient."

Intercon filed its lawsuit against BAN in June in an Illinois court, but BAN's counterclaim moved the suit to federal court.

BAN could be at a disadvantage facing an Illinois business in its home state. The move to federal court provides the nonprofit an opportunity to level the playing field. 

"We were advised by our attorneys that federal court would provide us the best venue for defending the case," Puckett said. 

What's next?

On Friday, Sept. 21: Patch concludes this series with a closer look at exporting in the recycling industry. 

Previous stories on the conflict between Intercon and BAN:

  • Protecting the Earth or Just Pretending? A Fight for Credibility in the Recycling Industry
  • Heights Recycling Company Builds Case Against Seattle Watchdog
  • Nonprofit and Ex-Employees Bash Heights Recycler's Business Practice, route: {:controller=>"articles", :action=>"show", :id=>"nonprofit-and-ex-employees-open-fire-on-heights-recycling-company"} -->
Arthur W. Wiggins Jr. September 20, 2012 at 11:51 AM
We need watch dog groups to augment the protection government provides us. In many industries the needed funding for the developers of these "standards", creates an underlying financial competition between the very entities that they are to oversee. In such cases where these monopolies and oligopoly exist, their purpose can become corrupt and at worse derisive. The South Suburbs needs Intercon Solutions; and because of that I truly hope these allegations are false and they are vindicated.

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