A Warren area septic system contractor filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit Monday against the county's health department and several county officials, alleging a conspiracy to drive him out of business and violate his civil rights.
The lawsuit was filed in federal court by Berry Meadows and his wife, Deanna, and their company, Digging Dirt LLC of Templeton Road, Warren Township, against members of the Trumbull County Board of Health; Dr. James Enyeart, director of the health department; Frank Migliozzi, director of environmental health; Sheriff Tom Altiere; sheriff's office employees Maj. Tom Stewart and Sonny Schulyer; county commissioners; and attorney Rob Kokor, who represents the board.
David Engler, attorney for the Meadowses, said the couple has been in business since 2004 and that disputes with the Health Department started when Meadows was unable to get approval for a specific septic system that he wanted to install and possibly save customers up to $3,000 per installation.
Tribune Chronicle / Christopher Bobby
Attorney David Engler, left, and Berry Meadows and his wife, Deanna Meadows, stand in front of equipment Monday morning at Meadowses’ business, Digging Dirt LLC, of Warren Township. The couple filed a federal lawsuit against various county officials, claiming the county is conspiring to put them out of business.
Instead, Engler said, the county directly or indirectly created a monopoly for one brand of septic system that cost the taxpayers more money.
The lawsuit and Engler said the attacks started after a Facebook site carried messages critical of the board for giving preferential treatment to Altiere's son Nick as having a noncompliant septic system that was never cited, and allowing Kokor to avoid a $250 inspection fee that ended up being paid four days after a public record request was made by the Meadowses.
Kokor said he and other members of the health department had no comment, and Altiere said he hadn't seen the complaint and would reserve any comment until after he reviewed it.
The case was assigned to U.S. District Judge Benita Y. Pearson in Youngstown.
The couple said the board eliminated public participation at its meetings shortly after they started videotaping the meetings. They said attacks on them escalated after they started public criticism and a posting called ''Favors for Friends.''
Before the lawsuit was filed Monday, the Meadowses and Engler held a news conference to preview their case, which Engler said involved the ''full force of government'' directed at his clients to put them out of business.
Engler said the couple has been using a Facebook site called Trumbull County Septic News to report what they viewed as suspicious activity by Health Department officials. Since the site appeared in October of 2011, ''the health department began an all-out assault on the Meadowses and their business reputation,'' he said.
Engler said his clients have had their civil rights violated and he is prepared to prove that a conspiracy existed to fuel the attacks.
In the lawsuit, the couple calls for Enyeart and Migliozzi's removal from their positions and the disbanding of the Board of Health. Engler also said the couple is seeking to have the Trumbull County Prosecutor's Office call in an independent investigator to determine of there are any corruption charges and a special prosecutor if charges are discovered.
Engler said one thing that led to the lawsuit was two recent criminal charges against Meadows that were dropped because of lack of probable cause. He labeled the cases as malicious prosecution orchestrated by Kokor and the direction of Enyeart.
The cases - one in Warren Municipal Court and another in Niles Municipal Court - were theft charges against Meadows based on complaints from two customers that said they were dissatisfied with the contractor's work.
Engler said the cases were nothing more than civil disputes and one is currently being litigated in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court. He said the criminal charges were never initiated by the customers, but by Stewart and by Schulyer, who works in the sheriff's Senior Citizens Unit.
Meadows also faces administrative sanctions by the board, which seeks to revoke his contractor's permit at a Sept. 28 hearing. The suit seeks injunctive relief to halt the revocation process.
Meadows is still embroiled in a public records battle with the Health Department that is set for another hearing Oct. 12 before a court magistrate in Common Pleas Court.