Apology From Craig Lorch and Jeff Zirkle - Entrapped By BAN

Last week, E-Scrap News and Recycling Today ran an Op-Ed Letter and story about the upcoming sentencing of two electronics recycling company owners from Seattle, Washington.

Craig Lorch and Jeff Zirkle's letter starts with their background as young freon recovery do-gooders, who got into fluorescent lamp recycling, and then into "E-Waste", becoming the largest TV, computer, and electronics scrap recycling company in the NW USA.

Open Letter: Learn from Total Reclaim’s mistakes

Got a call from Craig a few days before the letter, and we had a pretty long talk about the situation. Had a shorter exchange with Jeff just afterwards. Around New Years, I had talked to Charles Brennick, another Seattle area electronics guy spiked by the GPS tracking scandal in Washington. And I've been in regular contact with Bojan Paduh, founder of Canada's ERA, who is in a defamation lawsuit against Basel Action Network for their report describing GPS device trackers they put into electronics dropped off at his site in Canada.  I was a paid expert witness for a fraud case on e-waste recycling in Chicago last summer.  So I have a lot of perspective to share.

It is an ugly business to grandstand, or use a friend's painful prison sentence news story as a soapbox to pontificate on environmental policy.  But in some of these cases, I've been given a green light.

Let's start by acknowledging that fraud is bad.

Let's finish by talking about Total Reclaim's biggest mistake.

Especially in one case in the UK, where the indicted Joseph Benson adamantly admitted to and disclosed his exports to his home country, and in each major "e-waste export" case where a guilty plea has been entered, there was no finding of environmental damage. The crimes pled were for fraud (not in #freejoebenson's).

Discount Computer, Intercon Solutions, and Total Reclaim were each pumped into a news story by Basel Action Network as "bad export" cases. But save for Joe "Hurricane" Benson's sentencing in England, these were not shown to be export violations at all.  Rather, it has been Jim Puckett grandstanding on a news story he created.

Other cases - Stone Castle, Closed Loop, GES etc have been prosecuted, but those were for domestic dumping or abandonment of CRT glass. Those CRTs were NOT exported, because no one overseas would ever import such junk. Or in some cases, if there was demand overseas, the recycler had accepted BAN's premise that exports were bad. Some of the CRT glass abandoned in those domestic piles might have been reused, but for a false claim. An NGO in Seattle convinced millions of people  that CRTs were not being purchased by reuse geeks in the Tech Sector, but by "orphans" who burn them in the scrap sector. How these orphans pool their money from the slums, rice paddies, swamps and shantytowns ("millions of tons" carted by kids with wheelbarrows), to buy them, transport them, and clear them through customs has been a simple question left unanswered.

The requirements Total Reclaim was accused of evading were based on a false claim.

Entrapment could be a fraud defense.  But, according to Justia, entrapment can only be a defense if the underlying false claim was laid by a public official, and not by a private entity.
"Entrapment is a defense to criminal charges on the basis that the defendant only committed the crime because of harassment or coercion by a government official. Without such coercion, the crime would never have been committed. Entrapment can be a difficult defense to assert because it requires the defendant to establish that the idea and impetus for the crime was introduced by government officials, and the defendant was not already willing or predisposed to commit the crime. It is also important to note that entrapment can only occur with a government official, such as an FBI official or a police officer, not a private individual. Additionally, since it is an affirmative defense, the criminal defendant has the burden of establishing that entrapment occurred."
So it is possible to have a guilty defendant who "was not already predisposed to commit the crime", and who didn't have any intention of committing environmental crime. "It's not the crime, it's the cover up". A defendant may have initially been entrapped, but commit perjury or fraud to cover up the transgression. Indeed, Craig Lorch and Jeff Zirkle's apology letter is most damning when they admit to exactly that - changing shipping records in an attempt to misdirect investigators who were following the GPS device BAN had slipped into their used electronics.

Crowd Gathers at 1918 Train Wreck in Nashville
Basel Action Network created the opportunity for the crime.  BAN is a private entity, a self described "watchdog". And a registered 501-c(3) IRS recognized "Charity" at that.  As a charity, BAN files an annual 990 report stating that it does not pursue activities to benefit private business parties, does not support or promote domestic or international legislation, and does not earn commissions, etc.  BAN has a lot of clout with regulators in the Pacific Northwest, where Lorch and Zirkle had to answer their questions for years.

In fact, what makes this train wreck so cringy is not just that Jeff and Craig are two of the finest apples in the recycling business.  That's certainly the case, of course. They are two of the finest people I've ever done business with. But what makes it such a stunning story is that they have appeared in BAN promotional videos, paid BAN hundreds of thousands of dollars a certified E-Stewards, and - get this - HAD INSIDE KNOWLEDGE OF BAN'S TRACKING STUDY.

Total Reclaim is only accused of exporting 3% of the devices they managed. My chief complaint about their business over the years is that they exported too little.  But I also have an eyewitness that Lorch and Zirkle allowed BAN to choose used electronics from their own Seattle lot, and knew in advance that the trackers were being spread out. Indeed, Jim Puckett tried to protect his donors by approaching them with the data before going to press, giving them plenty of time to 'remediate' the situation.  And that, evidently, is when the worst fraud occurred.

Lin, Craig, & yours truly in Guandong China 2006
Basel Action Network certainly does not extend the courtesy to everyone, and never to companies that don't pay BAN money through E-Stewards.  In fact, BAN selects companies to receive types of devices most likely to be exported. They admit they know which devices are more likely to be exported and which are less, and they never once put a GPS tracker in an old CRT television, despite those being the single biggest environmental problem and by far the #1 component of USA e-waste. Jim told me, personally, that it would be "a waste of a GPS tracker" to put them into CRT TVs.  This shows that Jim was in the business of orchestrating the results of his little experiment.  Perhaps he doesn't want a GPS on a TV CRT to wind up in a pile at one of the domestic sites.

This is where I beg Craig Lorch and Jeff Zirkle to finish the process of apologizing by exposing this charade. We are missing another public letter telling "the rest of the story".

It sickens me that the Total Reclaim executives are in a position to help expose BAN's shenanigans, but that doing so might appear less contrite to the judge. The "biggest fraud" have been the false claims Jim Puckett made, to regulators and the press, which were referred to by Joseph "Hurricane" Benson's prosecution barrif as "common knowledge".

Craig and Jeff were, in a very real way, entrapped by the false claims BAN has been circulating for years. They ignored a lot of things, including:

1. BAN's claims that the Basel Ban Amendment is international law are false. It is a proposed amendment, drafted by BAN, which has not been adapted and is not in force.

2. Total Reclaim was given a copy of legitimate import permits to display device refurbishers in Asia, where they are accused of "dumping waste".

3. Craig Lorch was invited by me, personally, to fly to Asia to tour some of the refurbishing factories, along with Lin King (then Recycling Coordinator at UC Davis, now at Berkeley).  Craig was an eyewitness to the legal reuse of these devices, which employed thousands of people, and created affordable TVs and monitors out of devices that last 25 years, but which Seattle companies were discarding after 3-4 years.

4. Craig Lorch later toured the Fair Trade Recycling partner Net Peripheral in Penang, Malaysia, with Kelly Keough (a consultant from GreenEye), whom we had presented with a copy of Net Peripheral's legal import permit, and process to not only remove and properly recycle any displays inadvertently broken in transport, or mistakenly sent to Malaysia.

5. Lorch was taken to the Samsung CRT furnace in Klang, Malaysia, where the CRT glass from unrepairable units was recycled into new Cathode Ray Tubes.  This was not only CRT glass from monitors imported by Net Peripheral, but from monitors Net Peripheral took in from Malaysia generators in the first "E-waste Offset" program (before Fair Trade Recycling formally launched that campaign).

6. Lorch reported back to BAN about the visit. BAN went to the Malaysia Department of Environment and complained, and Net Peripheral received a knock on the door. Their permit was taken away.  Samsung then stopped accepting USA CRT glass. While I have a copy of the letter signed by Jim Puckett to the Malaysia authorities, he continues to deny that he was behind the effort to shut down Malaysia's CRT recycling, because it "conflicted with" his efforts to get Malaysia to support passage of his Basel Ban Amendment.

Total Reclaim was invited to visit and sell CRT cullet here
We have video of Jim Puckett describing the difference between the Basel Convention and the unratified, unpassed, Ban Amendment, and video of the Basel Convention Secretariat's former Executive Director explaining why the underlying basis of Total Reclaims contracts was based on false claims.  We have BAN's self-contradictions about the export of used electronics. We have stories BAN staff promoted, and then hid. And we have your recollections about BAN telling people who paid them more information about the GPS tracking than they gave to unwitting, unwilling subjects they target... My point is that Craig Lorch and Jeff Zirkle did not know about BAN's fraud originally, when they entered the Pledge of True Stewardship with BAN. But they came to know it eventually. And that put them in a precarious position, having promised to boycott talented people based on race and national origin... essentially forced to either be bigots, or lie about their trade.

3% exports - what Total Reclaim is accused of fraudulently exporting - was their compromise. It's a pitifully small percentage to trade with emerging markets. Yet now they are being sentenced for lying about it, and BAN is misrepresenting trade with geeks of color as environmental crime. I chided Jeff and Craig at every conference for exporting so little. And I walk free, because I don't hide it, I shout it from this pitiful soapbox.

There is a lot more to the list. But this should suffice as to why I urged Jeff and Craig to say far more than "we defrauded our E-Stewards agreement, which was required by our customers".

$55M per day cullet smelting facilities are not "rice paddies"
The E-Stewards contracts, and the 501-c(3) charitable status of Basel Action Network itself, is a massive fraud, built on not shoddy but apparently witting false statistical data which BAN managed to cycle into press stories. BAN testifies about legislation, BAN sets payment terms for recyclers based on tonnage (commission). BAN threatens to "go after" recyclers that don't pay for their certification, and BAN forewarns those that do.  BAN's literature is a disgusting mix of racial profiling and cringeworthy stereotypes.  The average age of scrap workers at Agbogbloshie is 34, but BAN labels the "orphan children". BAN objects to Samsung, Net Peripheral, and the Hong Kong Eco Park stellar recycling programs simply because they don't prop up the export story BAN's income relies on.

Total Reclaim's Biggest Mistake Was Being Bullied by Jim Puckett.

If Jeff and Craig are reading this, I hope they see my point. That just saying you are sorry for lying about exporting monitors may be the best advice for light sentencing, given the particulars of your judge and prosecutor. But you also know that companies like mine, who refused to acknowledge BAN's racist story, and fought to make sure that our clients knew full well our objections, have been threatened by BAN.

Geographically speaking, maybe it was easier for my Vermont company to stand up to BAN, or for Bojan's ERA in Canada to do so. Maybe Total Reclaim had fewer choices.

WR3A Apprentice in Ghana 2017
But when you plead guys, please don't give cover to the story that sentenced Joseph "Hurricane" Benson, and please don't forget about your hosts in Malaysia who bent over backwards to win your business. Don't remain silent about the difference between the Basel Ban Amendment and the Basel Convention (Annex IX on export for recycling and reuse, both legal if there is no dumping on land or water).  Don't let the lesson of your story be the continued boycott of geeks of color. Don't take away from emerging markets, whose billions of residents would never have gotten cell phone towers, TV satellites, internet cable if not but for the critical mass of users created by the exporters, like #freejoebenson, whom BAN would rather see in prison than clean up the messes in their home countries - messes from the decades of consumption (much of it reused) of electronics.

I told you many time, my landlord in the small village of Ngaoundal, in the middle of the Cameroon savanah, owned a TV in 1986. I trusted you guys to come visit with my friends in China, Egypt, Peru, Ghana, Mexico, etc.  I feel like maybe I was the one Jim will say "entrapped you" with tales of high tech facilities run by Geeks who Donald Summers (BAN's consultant) told Chicago Patch were a lie, said they did not exist. I'd ask that Donald Summers submit a second apology letter for their sentencing, disclosing how BAN's fury over the existence of state of the art refurbishers might have influenced Total Reclaim.

Let me again express my sorry for these two great guys. I'm a chubby old geezer, who blathers on policy in an ill-read blog about ethics in recycling. It is not my place to grandstand on their situation, to make their situation a soapbox. But it is an occasion to stop the racial profiling of people who, had Craig and Jeff not met them personally and seen their operations, they might never have sold to "them" (the "other" recyclers).  It is not to late to come out and refute BAN's claims that good recyclers overseas do exist. Stop the racism, during this brief moment when people are listening.

Be like Pete Seeger.


#FreeJoeBenson #FreeHuricaneBenson

No comments: