LITTLE ROCK -- The owner of a Kennett, Mo., trucking company accused of paying kickbacks to a landfill supervisor in Arkansas to evade dumping fees for numerous truckloads of waste will be tried by a federal jury in Little Rock, beginning Tuesday.
But the driver of the company's trucks, who is accused of actually dumping the loads of waste without first stopping at the scale house to be weighed, will be tried separately in December, U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker said Friday.
James David Ross, the owner of Ross Farms/Trucking, was indicted alongside the driver, Joe Harlon Hamlett, and the landfill operator, William "Wil" Chester Allen, but Allen pleaded guilty Sept. 15 to a charge of honest services mail fraud.
According to a Sept. 21 motion to sever the remaining defendants' cases, Ross' attorney, Bill Stanley of Jonesboro, said Allen will now be a witness against Ross and Hamlett. Stanley said he had been provided with a statement from Hamlett and believed that Ross would be prejudiced by the document's admission into evidence. He argued that it would violate Ross' right to cross-examine his accuser.
"In addition," Stanley said, he "believes the government is in possession of evidence that does not implicate Mr. Ross in any way, but will be admissible against Hamlett," and the introduction of that evidence could prejudice Ross.
Hamlett's attorney, Nicki Nicolo of North Little Rock, also asked that Hamlett's and Ross' cases be tried separately from each other, saying she had become aware that Ross had given an incriminating statement implicating Hamlett.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Erin O'Leary didn't oppose the severance requests but asked that Ross' case go forward first. She said the government "considers James David Ross to be the more culpable of the two parties," and said Nicolo has indicated that Hamlett's case may be resolved without a trial once Ross' trial is over.
"Therefore," O'Leary said, "trying Ross' case first may allow all parties and the Court to resolve this entire case more quickly and without two jury trials."
Baker agreed Friday to sever Hamlett's and Ross' cases. She said she had reviewed both men's statements to the FBI, which implicate each other, and given that neither defendant plans to testify, "their inability to cross-examine one another will be prejudicial."
She cited a U.S. Supreme Court finding that the admission of statements from a nontestifying defendant that inculpates a co-defendant violates the co-defendant's rights.
She said Ross' case would proceed as scheduled this week, but rescheduled Hamlett's trial to begin Dec. 7 before a separate jury.
Both men are charged with two counts of aiding and abetting honest services mail fraud.
Allen supervised the Mississippi County landfill, located near Luxora between Blytheville and Osceola. He admitted last month that in exchange for $100 cash payments from Ross, he allowed Hamlet, driving the company's big yellow trucks, to enter the landfill from a different direction than most trucks to avoid the scale house.
Scale tickets describe the type and amount of waste being dumped, and are used to calculate invoices and to notify and pay a fee to the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality.
As a result of the scheme, about 70 loads of waste from Ross Trucking weren't charged or documented between March and July of 2018, Allen agreed. Allen's charge was related to the mailing of false quarterly reports on landfill activities from the county to the department.
Allen acknowledged during his guilty plea that in July of 2018, in response to complaints from other drivers who saw the big yellow trucks avoid the scales, he began requiring Ross' trucks to cross the scales, but told his employees not to issue scale tickets, thus allowing the Missouri company to continue dumping for free.
Court documents say that altogether during the scheme, 194 dumped loads from the Missouri company went unrecorded at the landfill, while just 31 loads were recorded and billed to Ross. The average fee of the loads was determined to be $279.15, which was used to calculate the amount of restitution that Allen owes to the county at $54,155.
Allen's plea agreement said the amount will be owed jointly by all who are convicted in the scheme.