“#Lawsuit accuses paint company Benjamin Moore of ‘burying hazardous’ waste”
Benjamin Moore — the giant paint company owned by Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway — “illegally buried hazardous waste” on a potentially contaminated property in Los Angeles and then tried to hide evidence of its involvement, according to an explosive new lawsuit.
In the suit, filed in NJ state court in Hudson County, ex-Benjamin Moore lawyer Paul Sangillo — who worked as deputy general counsel for six years before getting canned in April — claims he obtained testimony in January of the alleged dumping.
The stinky subterfuge took place in 2001, according to the suit, as Benjamin Moore was prepping itself for a sale to Buffett’s investing empire, whose holdings also include Geico, Dairy Queen and See’s Candies.
After hearing this tale, an alarmed Sangillo instructed Benjamin Moore’s outside counsel, who had been on the call with the whistleblower employee, to write an opinion letter about what they had just heard. Sangillo received the legal letter on Jan. 22 and immediately forwarded it to his boss, Eric Finkelman, the suit says.
But when the two men met the next day, Finkelman was “extremely irritated and upset,” the lawsuit claims. He blasted Sangillo for putting what he learned in writing, saying that “was not smart,” according to the lawsuit.
Finkelman then fired the company’s outside counsel and gave Sangillo a scathing performance review, the lawsuit claims. Sangillo was “stunned” by Finkelman’s reaction, because “he had a legal and professional duty to disclose the illegal conduct, especially since there was a pending government inspection of the industrial site for hazardous waste,” the lawsuit said.
After getting slammed in his performance review, “Sangillo learned that defendants were not going to disclose the illegal dumping or concealment of that activity to the LARWQCB [Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board],” the lawsuit said.
A few months later, on April 20, Sangillo was laid off “under the pretext of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the lawsuit said.
“Benjamin Moore categorically denies all allegations that it acted in an illegal or improper manner,” a Benjamin Moore spokeswoman said. “We look forward to the opportunity to respond to these allegations in the proper forum.”
Renee Purdy, executive director of the Los Angeles agency conducting the environment review, confirmed that it had been in talks with Benjamin Moore about funding to test the land the company used to own at 3325 Garfield Ave. in Commerce, Calif., a suburb of Los Angeles. The testing would determine whether waste detected there in the past has affected the drinking water, she said.
“We were trying to enter into a cost-recovery agreement with Benjamin Moore that would require the company to provide funds to state agencies to investigate this matter,” Purdy said.
The agency wasn’t aware of Sangillo’s coverup allegations until contacted by The Post, however. “This is new information that we will be using as we continue our investigation,” Purdy said.
It’s not the first time Benjamin Moore has been accused of polluting the environment and canning an employee for exposing the deed.
As The Post reported in 2016, Benjamin Moore’s director of environmental, health, safety and security, Craig Huffman, claimed he was fired after raising concerns about potentially contaminated drinking water near the company’s plant in Massachusetts.
Benjamin Moore denied the allegations and the case has since been dismissed by the court without prejudice, court documents show. It’s unclear whether the parties settled.
Sangillo, who is seeking unspecified damages for retaliatory firing, did not respond to a request for comment.
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