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CLEVELAND -- Progress is slowly being made in the battle against illegal dumping in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County.

For years the problem grew worse because city leaders had too few resources to do something about it.

"People have been illegally dumping in the city for years," Cleveland Police Sergeant Andy Ezzo admitted. "What we're seeing is properties never taken care of before, and we're here to enforce the law."

Ezzo leads the newly formed Cuyahoga County Environmental Crimes Task Force, a coalition of public agencies concerned about the problem of open dumping throughout the county.

The Task Force participants were brought together by the Cuyahoga County Solid Waste District in May 2013 to enable partners to collaborate and establish a system to aggressively identify, investigate and prosecute individuals responsible for violating the environmental laws of the State of Ohio.

"It's a serious problem throughout the area," Waste District Executive Director Diane Bickett said. "It's an environmental justice issue and economic issue, businesses don't want to move in the economic urban core because there're plagued by dumping."

In May, Channel 3 News was with the unit when members executed a search warrant on a business located at 6401 Kinsman Road. Inside of the 10-acre lot was stolen property, boats, vehicles and piles of debris.

Hundreds of tires could be seen throughout the fenced-in area. Near the back of the lot was a small, fenced-in area containing two malnourished horses. Two bull mastiff dogs were taken from the property as well.

Cleveland Safety Director Michael McGrath said the investigation targeted an illegal tire dumping.

"Properties like this perpetuate quality of life issues and are the origin for crimes throughout the neighborhoods and communities," said McGrath.

Earlier this month, members of the WKYC Investigation Unit had an all-access pass with the Task Force as they served a search warrant to the owner of J C Auto Repair on Beaver Avenue.

The owner, identified as Joesph Cooper, told authorities that he's not responsible for the roughly 5,000 tires and hundreds of barrels containing a potentially hazardous liquid.

"When I bought the property, I didn't know that stuff was back there, I will work on it," Cooper told agents.

The unit spent nearly four hours on the property, detailing all items. They discovered piles of metal, automobile engines, and a mountain of wood pallets. "What it looks like is someone made a landfill here. They push it all back and buried everything," Ezzo explained.

The Task Force seems to be making a difference since its infancy. Currently, prosecutors say they a dozen court cases county-wide involving 15 defendants, with the first trial slated for the middle of September. Depending on the type of waste dumped, individuals found guilty face a fine up to $25,000 and/or face 2 to 4 years in jail.

"We need evidence, we need residents to take pictures of license plates or anything else, because we are committed to stopping this and to prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law," Bickett said.

Follow The Investigator Tom Meyer on Twitter: @TomMeyerWKYC

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