An influential Oakland businessman who is developing a trucking center at the old Oakland Army Base is accused of illegally dumping potentially contaminated soil and asphalt grindings on city property.
And there’s more: City and state officials also say that Bill Aboudi’s company, Oakland Maritime Support Services, or OMSS, violated an agreement with Caltrans by storing “junked” trailers, truck parts, and flammable materials on state land near the Bay Bridge.
But these are only the most recent problems facing Aboudi.
His various companies also are mired in expensive lawsuits, brought by former employees and investors, who allege that the trucking magnate took advantage of them and stole hundreds of thousands in wages and retirement funds, according to court records.
The controversies call into question Aboudi’s business dealings with the City of Oakland. OMSS LLC, one of his companies, has a contract with the city to develop a truck-service center on land at the old Army Base. In 2013, the city and OMSS signed a 55-year lease, allowing Aboudi’s company to build the truck-service center on seventeen acres just north of where a massive logistics complex is being built by another developer. The OMSS project was estimated to cost $25 million, and would include acres of truck parking, a convenience store and restaurant, truck scales, and a fueling station.
The new facilities are meant to draw diesel trucks out of West Oakland’s neighborhoods in order to reduce pollution and traffic impacts on the community. OMSS also agreed to dedicate a small percentage of fuel sales to a local jobs center.
But last month, Caltrans workers started noticing large piles of soil and asphalt grindings appearing on the land where the OMSS truck center is supposed to be built. They also noticed semi-trucks, travel trailers, and questionable materials being stored under the West Grand Avenue bridge, in violation of agreements between OMSS and the city, and the city and CalTrans.
Caltrans officials contacted Phil Tagami, the master developer of the Oakland Army Base. Tagami visited the OMSS site early last month. “We inspected the situation and notified the City and DTSC of our findings,” Tagami wrote in an email, referring to the state Department of Toxic Substances Control, which is supposed to monitor and approve of any soils and other materials imported to the site for grading and construction purposes. He said that Aboudi admitted to improperly dumping the soil and asphalt.
Caltrans spokesman Bob Haus told the Express that heavy rains could wash potential contaminants off piles of asphalt grindings, which would then flow into the Bay.
According to city records, Aboudi initially dismissed the city’s orders that he stop importing and dumping the materials.
On September 12, Doug Cole, the city’s lead on the Army Base redevelopment project, sent an urgent cease-and-desist email to Aboudi, demanding that no more soil or asphalt grindings be imported to the OMSS site. But Aboudi continued trucking in the materials, according to city records.
Five days later, on September 17, Oakland City Administrator Sabrina Landreth sent a second cease-and-desist letter, warning Aboudi that he was in violation of his lease agreement.
Landreth ordered Aboudi to consolidate all the illegal soil and have it removed by a licensed hauling company. She also demanded that OMSS immediately prepare and submit plans, information, and compliance documents to the city. She gave Aboudi a deadline of September 19.
On that day, Aboudi replied to Landreth in a short letter, stating that he had no plans of complying with the city’s orders. Aboudi even accused Tagami of trespassing, and asked Landreth to have him “respect our property boundaries.”
Aboudi also claimed the city had been supplied with “misinformation,” and that the asphalt grindings and dirt, which he had trucked in from the city of Alameda, was for “dust control.” He also made excuses that it was difficult to contact anyone with the city regarding his construction plans.
Landreth replied on September 27 with a stern letter, calling Aboudi’s response to the city’s orders “troubling.”
“[Y]ou did not recognize the seriousness of the illegal importing of soils onto the site or indicate in any way that you would proceed with constructive actions to terminate any further soil import,” she wrote.
The city administrator cited time-stamped photo and video evidence, collected by the city, showing that OMSS had continued to illegally import and stockpile potentially contaminated soil and asphalt. Landreth also noted that Aboudi violated Oakland’s agreement with CalTrans by illegally parking trailers and storing flammable materials under the West Grand Avenue bridge, and even allowing truckers to use the area as an outdoor mechanic’s shop.
She wrote that the city didn’t wish to terminate its lease with OMSS, but that it would take the necessary actions to ensure compliance.
The Express contacted Aboudi for comment on the alleged lease violations and illegal soil imports, but only received the following three-word response via email: “OMSS is complying.”
Aboudi’s spat with the city is only his most recent legal problem.
In May 2013, an Alameda County judge issued a $1.5 million judgment against another of Aboudi’s companies, AB Trucking, after finding the company had failed to pay some of its employees and violated the Port’s Living Wage Ordinance. The employees who sued AB Trucking also alleged that Aboudi prevented them from taking meal and rest breaks, failed to provide them with pay records, and frequently did not pay them on time, in addition to other violations.
Asked about this lawsuit, Aboudi sent the Express an email containing a link to YouTube video of U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown of Florida speaking about labor laws pertaining to truck drivers.
Aboudi subsequently filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy for the company, claiming it had been profitable, but the judgment required a restructuring. But then earlier this year, Aboudi’s attorneys reversed course and had the bankruptcy case closed, prior to reaching any payment plan with former employees and creditors.
And then, this past August, Aboudi was hit with another lawsuit: Former Solano County resident Joseph Tagliarini alleged that Aboudi defrauded him of $100,000.
Tagliarini’s attorney, Roy Stanley, said that his client invested in Aboudi’s OMSS truck-center project. Aboudi deposited Tagliarini’s check in August 2014, according to court records, but then Tagliarini claims that he never heard again from Aboudi, and was never provided with any receipts or records ensuring he owned one-hundred shares in OMSS.
According to Tagliarini’s complaint, Aboudi was attempting to raise a total of $2.5 million in investor money to pay for construction. But Tagliarini believes that Aboudi may have used his money for other purposes, and alleges that Aboudi has “commingled” money between his various companies.
“It was basically just a scam,” Stanley said.
Aboudi did not respond to questions about the Tagliarini lawsuit.
Whether any of this will impact the viability of Aboudi’s OMSS truck-center project is unclear, but he’s already been kicked off Port of Oakland property for unrelated reasons.
In April, the Port notified another one of Aboudi’s companies, Oakland Port Scale, that it was terminating his lease on the parcel of port-owned land where he ran a truck scale and convenience store, and that he would need to vacate by June.
Aboudi started an online petition to fight the eviction. “The Port is actively providing false information to justify forcing the closure of this important service for the workers at the Port of Oakland,” he wrote.
“This was a month-to-month lease, and it was made clear from the beginning to the tenant that the port would need the land at some point,” said port spokesman Mike Zampa. But when June arrived, Aboudi refused to leave. The port had to file an eviction lawsuit to remove his company.
As for those controversial piles of dirt and asphalt at the OMSS site, Oakland officials say that, as of this week, Aboudi still hasn’t gotten proper permits, properly tested the dirt piles for toxins, or complied with the city’s cease and desist orders, all of which could lead to the city cutting ties with OMSS.
“The City could proceed with a formal declaration of lease default if there continued to be inaction to correct the violations,” explained Assistant City Administrator Claudia Cappio in an email.