Set in Stone | Cover Story | Salt Lake City Weekly

March 22, 2017 News » Cover Story

Set in Stone 

How an elderly, dementia-stricken man ended up owing Salt Lake County $36,063.

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  • Niki Chan

Knowing her father as nothing if not a law-abiding, careful man, Tiffany Janzen was nonplussed to learn last May that investigators were snooping on family property.

That month, the West Jordan resident phoned a Salt Lake County District Attorney agent, Lt. Alex Huggard, who had been tipped off to an illegal operation on a 24-acre parcel of land along 2100 South. The property is owned by Janzen's father, J. Rodney Dansie.

A man in his late-70s, Dansie has suffered a succession of maladies, is subject to fits of memory loss and has grown frail—making it all the more shocking that he was a subject of an investigation. No criminal charges had been filed, however.

Janzen asked for specifics, and says she received an answer just as confounding: "He said, 'It's about dumping concrete slurry,'" she recalls.

What she didn't know then, and knows all too well now, is that concrete slurry is waste, often a sludge or water solution that contains bits of concrete particle—a crummy by-product of road construction. What she also knows is that you can't just empty the industrial swill onto the ground, whether it is public land or your own, without a permit.

And she knows too that if you do allow a slurry pour on your property, you could be fined nearly $40,000, be on the hook for cleaning it up, or face possible criminal charges.

"It's such a weird nightmare," she says.

Like a venturer who's stumbled into a pit of quicksand, Dansie was suddenly engulfed in a mess, trying to get his bearings, as his daughter anxiously assessed the situation, uncertain if the next move would help free him from the muck or sink him further.

Janzen couldn't see how anyone would consider her father, recently diagnosed with dementia, a mastermind behind the alleged conduct. The trouble, it seemed, stemmed from a business deal hatched last year. In March 2016, Dansie agreed to allow 3.2 million gallons of concrete slurry to seep into the dirt on his property. He was to be paid $75 per truck load.

One provision of the contract specified that the lessor, Dansie, was responsible for obtaining the required permits. He was obliged, it stated, to operate within the parameters of the law. He had allowed companies to dump "clean fill" on that property years prior, but Janzen says this time, the contract deviated significantly from his standard forms. At least one contract from her father's past explicitly stated that concrete and pavement—construction waste that would require a permit—were not allowed. With regard to the March 2016 contract, she believes her father was deceived.

"My dad would never sign something like that with all his faculties," Janzen says.

And now the real estate on 2100 South serves as an example of the impossible knot that can ensnare a man who signs a legal document that unwittingly leaves him holding the bag. It's no surprise that Dansie was at a loss finding avenues to rectify his situation; he never fully understood it, his daughter argues.

Janzen is convinced that the man who presented the contract to her father, did so with the intention of making a quick buck and then shielded himself behind the legalese.

Debbie Booth, a consumer-protection agent with the division of Aging & Adult Services, is familiar with the plague of scammers who target elderly people. This demographic, she says, is generally more trusting and therefore vulnerable to dishonest actors.

But she also runs across cases where companies conduct business as usual, with no intent to rip anyone off but nevertheless do. In such cases, the customer falls victim to his or her own failing mental faculties and doesn't understand the ramifications.

"Businesses aren't aware of the [mental] capacity issue to a great degree, nor is that a concern of theirs," Booth says.

Her office received a call from a woman, for example, whose father went out and purchased several cars from multiple lots. "They didn't have the means to buy the cars," she says. "That wasn't something that the family needed, etc."

Janzen believes her father was picked as easy prey, however. Booth couldn't speak to this situation specifically but acknowledges the prevalence of fraud committed against the elderly.

"By and large, in terms of exploitation, it's a huge issue," she says. "With all the scams out there, we see tons and tons and tons of people taken advantage of. It's really sad."

  • Niki Chan

West of Salt Lake City, the Dansie property is an undeveloped plot facing a frontage road that is lined with industrial businesses like a concrete crusher and an auto wrecking yard. This is an area where West Valley City firefighters set salvaged cars ablaze, releasing plumes of sooty smoke into the air, to practice dousing the flames.

The rectangle parcel is fenced and posted with signs prohibiting illegal dumping. The ground is bleak. On one end nearest the road, bits of debris have blown through the metal posts. Dry weeds jut up around tufts of grass. Piles of "clean fill"—which resemble small mounds of soil—dot the landscape. Sporadic rock-sized chunks of pavement lie in the sediment, but the ground is primarily dirt.

To the layman, there is no sign of what one imagines slurry to look like. No pit. No water. The liquid either evaporated or filtered into the ground.

The back fourth of the property dips into a small, dry basin until it reaches the northern property line delineated with another wire fence.

Adjacent to the north, on neighboring property, waterfowl swim leisurely in a pond. The shore is blighted with heaps of trash, though, including two abandoned jon boats. Along one edge, jettisoned tires rise flat on the surface like dirty, deformed lily pads.

Janzen's husband, Paul, cites the surrounding property and contrasts it with the land owned by his father-in-law, which looks clean by comparison. The Janzens accuse the county of ignoring glaring waste problems less than 100 yards away.

"They're not doing anything about it. They're not touching it," Paul Janzen says. "They're spending their resources going after us."

The county health department was unable to comment on the case because it is ongoing.

Dansie purchased the nearly 25-acre lot in 1964, an investment he thought could one day be sold to put his children through college. When Janzen reminisces fondly about her father, a diligent, conservative man subsumed by work and family life, she doesn't recall a moment of idleness. He spent his days as an engineer and his evenings farming hay in Herriman. Eschewing debt, Dansie instilled in his children a hard-work ethic that resulted in them getting jobs to help pay for schooling, and selling the land wasn't necessary.

The uneven field continued to be utilized as a horse pasture and a staging yard.

Dansie had allowed companies to bring "clean fill" to his plot, as well. Lessees were required to submit photographs and keep a log tallying the number of loads, Janzen says. She understood the material to be dirt, for the most part, that was hauled onto the property and leveled off.

Assuming the material poured on his land last spring was classified as "clean fill," Dansie allowed it, Janzen suspects. The construction industry should have explained to him what permits were needed to ensure all operations were above board, she argues.

"It was a state contractor who dumped it," Janzen says, "and they dumped it taking advantage of my dad." The kicker, she adds: "He hasn't even been paid."

  • Niki Chan

The slurry came from a Utah Department of Transportation project completed last year. Ogden's Multiple Concrete Enterprises was contracted by the state to complete the road work.

The $2.4-million job required Multiple Concrete Enterprises to resurface and smooth a section of Interstate 80 from Redwood Road to about 6000 West. After grinding, vacuum trucks sucked up water used to cool diamond blades, and pieces of gravel and sand were gathered up with the liquid, creating slurry.

At one time, companies could wash slurry along the shoulder of the highway. Neither a chemical nor hazardous waste, slurry is not toxic, but usually contains high hydrogen ion levels. UDOT stopped allowing contractors to place slurry on the shoulders in urban areas because of high pH levels. It now must be taken to areas permitted for wastewater.

On this project, Multiple Concrete Enterprises looked at a couple of options, including the field on 2100 South. Because of its proximity to the project site, it opted for Dansie's sprawling property.

Knowing now that Dansie didn't have permits allowing slurry on his property, Var Stephens, president of Multiple Concrete Enterprises, says he would have gone elsewhere.

"I wish we'd never got involved," he says. "This was just a shorter haul for us. We're just not a company that blatantly breaks the law."

In a pre-construction meeting with UDOT, Multiple Concrete Enterprises had to identify where it would be hauling the material. Stephens says a clause in the contract requires the contractor to state where the slurry will end up.

UDOT confirmed that approval of a contract agreement would include a plan addressing waste.

In a state audit conducted last year, auditors revealed that "contract oversight needs to be strengthened to better ensure contract compliance with quality and safety," a summary of the report states.

As alleged by Janzen, Stephens emphasizes that Multiple Concrete Enterprises didn't swindle Dansie: "My opinion is we're a victim here," he counters.

By the time the county caught wind of slurry on 2100 South, about a third of the project was complete, according to Multiple Concrete Enterprises. When it heard that Dansie wasn't permitted to take slurry, the company ceased its activities, but by then they'd paid in full.

Multiple Concrete Enterprises' contract was not with Dansie directly, however.

Instead, the concrete company contracted with National Construction Specialties, which is owned by a man named George Kim DeWolfe. In March of last year, National Construction Specialties, acting as a go-between, signed separate deals with Dansie and Multiple Concrete Enterprises.

National Construction Specialties agreed to pay Dansie $75 for every load dumped on his property. But National Construction Specialties wasn't a party in the construction job and didn't have any waste to dump. Multiple Concrete Enterprises did, though, and entered a legal contract to use National Construction Specialties' lease on the property and pay $120 per load deposited on the Dansie field. Per those two agreements, DeWolfe's company was set to make $45 for every truckload of slurry. The completion of the job would have net Dansie an estimated $40,000.

Multiple Concrete Enterprises paid National Construction Specialties, but Dansie says he never received his cut.

In the aftermath, DeWolfe has remained an elusive figure.

"What's strange is we don't know who George DeWolfe is," Janzen says. "I've never heard from him."

Calls to a number Janzen had for DeWolfe went unanswered.

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National Construction Specialties seems to have disappeared as well. Their listed number is no longer in service. For several years, it had operated under a business license filed with the City of Midvale, but when renewal fees weren't paid, the license was terminated in March 2015.

For each day a business operates without a license, it could be charged with a Class B misdemeanor. Midvale officials, however, typically attempt to help businesses with expired licenses become compliant rather than punish them, says Dustin Eberspacher, a business license administrator with the city.

National Construction Specialties was registered with the State Division of Corporate and Commercial Code, and DeWolfe was named as the "registered agent," but it had also expired before Dansie signed the contract on National Construction Specialties' letterhead.

The person who orchestrated the deal is Brent Orton, a former employee of Greene's Inc., a construction company that was allowed to pour fill on Dansie's property around 2013 and was a subcontractor on the I-80 project. Orton, who is DeWolfe's brother-in-law, was also unable to be reached for comment by phone and email.

A month after contracts were signed, Salt Lake County was alerted by Salt Lake City Storm Water that trucks were spraying a gray liquid on the property. The health department sent an employee who scoped out the scene and interviewed workers.

The health department wrote up the findings in a notice violation obtained by City Weekly.

Kevin Okleberry, then an employee at the county health department, visited Dansie's property with permission on April 23, 2016. He chatted with a few construction employees, and noted that two trucks bearing the Multiple Concrete Enterprises logo were discharging slurry.

One of the men Okleberry met on the property was Orton. According to a notice document, Orton said the property owner allowed waste on his property and that the area had been a repository for about four years. The plan was to cover the slurry when it dried with dirt fill. Eventually, the entire parcel was to be filled in. Okleberry estimated slurry was poured on about three acres of land.

When told that he needed a permit to continue, Orton replied that he would stop immediately.

In a rudimentary test, Okleberry determined the slurry's pH was about 12. Three days later, when the ground wasn't as muddy, he returned, collected four samples and sent them off to a laboratory. The results ranged from 11.2 to 11.5 on the pH scale. The county also obtained copies of the contracts and reached out to the parties involved.

One day when Paul Janzen was visiting his father-in-law, an investigator called. Paul Janzen says he realized Dansie was confused by the conversation and asked if he could speak to the person on the other end. Up until that point, neither he nor his wife knew of the slurry troubles.

Earlier in the year at her father's request, Janzen had called West Valley City to ask whether "clean fill" requires a permit. She now realizes this was likely because her father had been asked about permitting.

Less than a month after Okleberry inspected the site, Dansie received a compliance order requiring him to stop accepting construction waste on his property.

When the Janzens realized something was amiss, they padlocked the property. Orton via text message accused Janzen of holding equipment hostage, though she says that was never her intention. On two occasions last summer, someone removed fencing on Dansie's land to retrieve property. Janzen filed police reports for each instance.

Between May 2016 and February 2017, there was no update on the status of the investigation until Dansie received the notice of violation dated Feb. 6, 2017. The Salt Lake County Health Department listed eight violations, including creating a public nuisance, creating an open dump and operating a solid waste facility without a permit. Dansie was ordered to cease waste storage, pay $36,063 in penalties, dispose all waste on his property at a permitted facility and obtain authorization from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers before any excavation.

Beyond a hefty fine, the Dansie family retained a pricey environmental lawyer and has ongoing medical bills.

Her father's health has declined precipitously the past five years, Janzen says. After a surgery on his neck, two on his back and one for a brain aneurysm, he was treated with morphine and codeine to ease lingering chronic pain. Then he was diagnosed with hairy cell leukemia and underwent chemotherapy.

The family chalked up memory loss to his treatments, but in August—mere months after he signed the slurry contract—he was diagnosed with late-stage dementia, which had apparently gone undetected for years. One month last year, Dansie tried to pay his mortgage three times. The Janzens forbade Dansie from getting behind the wheel after he got lost on his way to West Jordan and got lost again headed to Draper. A year ago in January, Dansie granted his daughter power of attorney.

  • Niki Chan

In a quiet room on a crisply warm Saturday, Dansie reclines in a bed made up with flannel sheets. The 78-year-old property owner is staying at a pleasant Alzheimer care center in South Jordan, where a keypad locked door keeps clients from wandering out beyond the antique-furnished foyer.

The private room where Dansie rests is small but comfortable; pictures of his family are propped up on a shelf.

On this day, Dansie's face is discerning. Dementia has brought on bouts of paranoia, the kind of distrust that makes him ask for a photograph of a visiting reporter and photographer to keep in his files. He insists the picture be taken.

Unsure about the purpose or use in talking about his property with a stranger, he soon comes around to mentioning a deal involving UDOT and contractors. "Did they ever pay me any money?" he asks in a soft, wispy voice. Loose skin that hangs down from his arms is evidence of the full biceps he once had.

Dansie is worked up about the property but lacks the understanding or at least the words necessary to explain the complexity of the situation that started on I-80 and ended up on his field.

Dansie remembers Orton and asks if he is alive. That no one has recently spoken to him, Dansie reasons, hints he might not be. When asked about a contract he signed last year, Dansie says he has no recollection of the year 2016.

This responsibility has fallen on Janzen's shoulders. Dansie and his wife divorced around 1990 after 18 years of marriage, and pressing obligations have limited the amount his son can do. Janzen's pleas to regulators to consider the possibility that her father was not in a position to understand his situation hasn't lifted the burden.

As a last-ditch attempt to clean the mess and clear her father's name, Janzen says she will sell her house to pay for the accrued attorneys fees and save a lump sum for a potential lawsuit.

She claims Orton agreed to pay her father for the slurry loads, on the condition he sign a liability waiver. To Janzen and Dansie, the offer was unacceptable.

"You don't sign a release of liability if you've got a contract. You just pay the contract amount," Dansie says.

Over the summer, the family will determine the next course of action. They've been told they must test the soil, and if it registers a high pH level, they will need to scoop it up and haul it to a recycling facility.

The Janzens will also dig deep into the ground to prove that it isn't covering solid construction waste.

"We're going to come out with a backhoe, somewhere in this area we're going to dig a straight trench and see what's down there," Paul Janzen says. "They're really looking for bigger chunks of concrete and construction material, which we're pretty sure is not there."

Multiple Concrete Enterprises would also like to find a resolution that doesn't put an unfair burden on the company.

"If the board of health is asking that we remove the loads we placed, where do we draw a line to determine our material from others who have used this property for years before?" Stephens asks.

The county reached out to Janzen to schedule a meeting with all the stakeholders, but she has little faith that it will resolve the issue. In the meantime, Dansie's fine is on hold until the summer when they figure out what needs to be cleaned.

Janzen's eyes well up when she talks about her father. With his ailing health, he might not be alive in six months, she says, adding that the unfair accusations against him are only exacerbating his poor condition. She doesn't want to go to court, she doesn't want to wrestle money from the construction industry and she doesn't want to fight with the health department. She wants the ordeal to end.

"I'm not in this situation to make money," she says. "I'm in this situation to make my dad whole and move on."

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