ROXBURY - The man behind a controversial landfill redevelopment project in Morris County is a convicted criminal, and some Roxbury homeowners say the state should never have approved the deal because of his background.

Richard Bernardi was convicted of conspiracy to commit bribery in 1996, in connection with a sanitation company he owned in Newark. He was sentenced to three years in prison.

New Jersey law says that convicted criminals are not allowed to work in the solid waste industry, and Roxbury homeowners want to know how Bernardi was allowed to truck in tons of construction waste to cap and redevelop the old Fenimore landfill. As we’ve been reporting, homeowners say fumes from the project have been making them sick.

The state Department of Environmental Protection says it was aware of the conviction. Spokesman Larry Ragonese tells Walt Kane the law did not apply to Bernardi because his company was not running a landfill, it was closing one.

But homeowners like Jim Stoltz say they don't see the difference. "You have trash coming in and by definition he's bringing in things that people don't want so it's trash, right?" Stoltz says.

Ragonese maintains the construction debris being used is specifically designed to cap a landfill.

Bernardi agrees the solid waste law does not apply to him. He also argues he was unfairly convicted. His trial attorney said he misplaced key evidence and offered to testify about his mistake, but the judge advised him against doing that. The judge later admitted that was improper. However, Bernardi also admits that after sentencing, he jumped bail and took his family to the Philippines before returning to the US two years later to serve his time.