Owner, 2 Employees of Trucking Companies Charged in Illegal Repair of Gasoline Cargo Tanks, One of Which Exploded and Killed Welder
LOS ANGELES – A federal grand jury has returned an indictment that charges three individuals and two Inland Empire trucking companies in a scheme to defeat federal transportation laws that included an illegal repair of a gasoline tanker that resulted in a fatal explosion.
The four-count indictment filed late Wednesday afternoon outlines two years of illegal and unauthorized tanker repairs, culminating with a May 6, 2014 explosion that killed a company welder and severely injured a second worker. Members of the conspiracy also allegedly helped rename the company after federal regulators ordered it to take its cargo tanks off the road.
The indictment charges three individuals:
Carl Bradley Johansson, who also used variations on his name, such as “Brad Johnson,” 59, of Corona, the owner of the trucking companies;
Enrique “Henry” Garcia, 43, of Pomona, Johansson’s shop manager, who supervised the welders who illegally repaired cargo tankers; and
Donald Cameron Spicer, 66, of Fullerton, who was the safety manager at Johansson’s companies.
The indictment also charges Johansson’s Corona-based trucking companies, National Distribution Services, Inc. (NDSI), which operated from about 2009 through 2015, and NDSI’s successor company, Wholesale Distribution, Inc. (WDI), which does business as Quality Services. Johansson allegedly created WDI to take over NDSI’s operations so he could continue to operate the cargo tanks that had been ordered out of service.
All five defendants are charged with participating in a scheme to conduct illegal repairs on cargo tanks used to transport gasoline and to obstruct the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT), which enforces federal laws related to the trucking industry, including the repair of cargo tanks.
After doing in-house repairs on at least a half-dozen cargo tanks – even though NDSI was not certified to conduct such repairs – Johansson and Garcia on May 5, 2014 discussed directing two NDSI workers to conduct welding on a cargo tank. The following day, Garcia issued the orders to the employees, even after one of the welders told Garcia that it was not safe, according to the indictment. The two workers began a welding project on the cargo tank, which caused an explosion that killed one worker and seriously injured the man who had warned Garcia.
Later that day, when investigators arrived at NDSI, Johansson identified himself as being a customer service representative with another company and said the welders were employed by an outside tank-repair company, the indictment alleges.
In August 2014, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued an imminent hazard order – commonly called an “Out-of-Service Order” – to NDSI, which prohibited the company from operating approximately 37 cargo tanks to haul gasoline or ethanol because the FMCSA determined that those cargo tanks presented safety risks, according to the indictment. Nevertheless, Johansson continued to use them to transport gasoline and ethanol. Furthermore, Johansson and NDSI allegedly submitted false statements to the FMCSA in an attempt to have the Out-of-Service Order rescinded by the agency. The indictment alleges that Johansson signed, under oath, an affidavit that falsely claimed NDSI had never engaged in tank repairs and that Garcia worked for an outside tank-repair company.
In an attempt to circumvent the FMCSA’s Out-of-Service Order, Johansson, at the end of 2014, began a process to convert NDSI to operate under the WDI name, the indictment alleges.
Once Johansson converted the trucking company to WDI, Spicer allegedly filed documents to conceal that fact that WDI was simply a new name for NDSI, and that WDI was continuing to transport gasoline and ethanol in violation of the FMCSA’s Out-of-Service Order.
All five defendants are charged with conspiring to violate federal law by causing illegal repairs to be conducted on the cargo tanks and defrauding the United States Department of Transportation. The indictment further charges Johansson, Garcia and NDSI with one count of welding without required certifications, in violation of the Hazardous Materials Transportation Statute. Johansson is charged with one count of making a false statement to the Department of Transportation for allegedly falsely telling investigators that he did not discuss with Garcia the repair of the cargo tank prior to the explosion. Spicer also faces a charge of making a false statement to the FMCSA by failing to disclose that WDI was directly linked to NDSI.
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.
The illegal welding count carries a statutory maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison. The other counts carry a statutory maximum penalty of five years in prison.
The indictment in this case follows the filing of two criminal complaints earlier this month. Garcia was arrested on the night of April 9 as he crossed the international border into San Diego County, and Johansson was arrested on April 10 at his business. Spicer, who was named in a second complaint, was taken into custody on April 11.
Spicer is scheduled to be arraigned on the indictment on May 9 in United States District Court in Riverside, and Johansson’s arraignment is scheduled for May 16. Garcia’s arraignment has not yet been scheduled.
The case has been assigned to United States District Judge Virginia A. Phillips, who sits in Los Angeles.
The affidavit in support of the criminal complaint that names Johansson notes that he was aware of regulations that prevented unauthorized repair work on cargo tanks because he was previously prosecuted by the United States Attorney’s Office for conducting illegal repairs at a company where he was president. In 2000, Johansson was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison after pleading guilty in a scheme in which another welder was killed in an explosion while he was working on a cargo tank.
The investigation in this matter is being conducted by the United States Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General and IRS Criminal Investigation.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Matthew W. O’Brien of the Environmental and Community Safety Crimes Section.