The Investigators

Sep 11, 2013 9:05 PM by Tom McNamara and Paul Birmingham

Illegal dumping investigator faces gunfire, other hazards on patrol

TUCSON - It's a dirty, disgusting problem that is 100% preventable. We're talking about illegal or 'wildcat' dumping.

The News 4 Tucson Investigators wanted to find out how big the problem is in Pima county, and, why it can be a difficult crime to prosecute.

Wildcat dumping pollutes the environment, creates a huge eyesore, and it burdens taxpayers, who must pay to clean it up.

The News 4 Tucson Investigators went out with another kind of investigator - one from the Pima County Department of Environmental Quality, to see what's being done to stop it.

For more than two decades, K.C. Custer has been fighting the war against illegal dumping. Like any battle, his mission is not without danger.

"It can be everything from being shot at, to somebody trying to run you over with their pickup truck, or somebody that's nice and says 'well, I'll go clean it up'," Custer says.

The battleground today is an area on Tucson's far southeast side.

Custer tells the News 4 Tucson Investigators, the massive, stinking, piles come from people who have actually paid others to take their trash to the dump.

"They were probably paid tipping fees up front, and they just came out here, and dumped it, and pocketed the money and drove off. because, this is commercial dumping here," Custer says.

Just this year, Custer and his forces have removed tons of illegally dumped trash.

Eventually, we'll have to come clean this up at the taxpayer's expense. Because these people were criminals, and doing their dumping, and don't care about the environment, and don't care about the people they rip-off," Custer says.

Busting those responsible is half the battle and it can be the most challenging part.

"A lot of times you have to catch them in the act, but if there's enough evidence found, we can prosecute them that way. The hardest part is proving did it, when it was done," Custer says.

Those fighting the war against this illegal dumping in the desert say it's very very hard to catch the culprits, without a lot of solid evidence. And, they say it's even harder to understand why anyone would dump illegally in a once pristine desert, when for $10 or $20, they could dump legally at the Los Reales landfill just a couple of miles down the road, and avoid any potential fines or criminal charges.

For people who hire someone to clean up, Custer says it's smart to make sure they're taking your trash to the legal landfill, and not illegally dumping it in the desert.

"If we find evidence in there, then we're going to come to you, and you have to prove that you hired somebody. If you can't prove it, then you are responsible for it," Custer says.

Custer also tells the News 4 Tucson Investigators, despite the tons of trash, things have gotten a lot better in the past 25 years.

"Right now, we're staying on top of the problem. It certainly hasn't stopped. But, we're able to stay on top of it. Eventually someday hopefully, people will just stop doing it. When that happens, we'll all be lucky, I guess," Custer says.

If you spot someone who is dumping illegally, don't approach them; try to get an accurate license plate number and a description of the vehicle and the items dumped. Then you should call the illegal dumping hotline at 622-5800.

If you have something you'd like us to investigate, email the News 4 Tucson investigators at


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