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Press Release

Owner of Trucking Companies Sentenced to 10 Years in Prison for Conspiracy in Fatal Tanker Explosion, Tax Evasion and COVID Fraud

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Central District of California

          LOS ANGELES – The owner of several Inland Empire-based trucking companies was sentenced today to 120 months in federal prison for ordering the illegal repair of a tanker that resulted in an explosion and the death of one his employees – the second time one of his welders was killed.

          Carl Bradley Johansson, 64, of Newport Beach, was also sentenced for tax evasion and fraudulently obtaining approximately $954,417 in COVID-relief money while free on bond in the tanker explosion case.

          Johansson was sentenced by United States District Judge Virginia A. Phillips, who also ordered Johansson to pay $1,252,979 in restitution to two banks and the IRS.

          Johansson pleaded guilty in September 2021 to two felony counts in relation to the tank explosion – one count of conspiring to make illegal repairs on the cargo tanks and to defraud the United States Department of Transportation, and one count of welding without required certifications. He also pleaded guilty to one count of tax evasion, one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and one count of bank fraud. Johansson admitted that he committed the bank fraud offenses stemming from the PPP scam while he was on pretrial release in the tanker explosion case. Johansson has been in custody since his arrest on the PPP charges in July 2021.

          Tanker Explosion Case

          Johansson controlled and operated two 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 did business as Quality Services. Johansson established NDSI following a 15-month federal prison sentence he served after one of his welders was killed in another tanker explosion in 1993. Johansson created WDI to take over NDSI’s operations so he could continue to illegally operate cargo tanks that were ordered out of service after two more welding-caused explosions at NDSI in 2012 and 2014.

          On May 6, 2014, NDSI management ordered workers to do welding work on a tanker that had not been fully cleaned of the crude oil inside of it. This resulted in an explosion that killed a company welder and severely injured a second worker.

          For the next four years, Johansson and other employees of NDSI and WDI conspired to obstruct a federal investigation into the explosion by making multiple false statements to local, state and federal officials to conceal that NDSI had conducted illegal welding repairs, that Johansson controlled NDSI and WDI, and that the deceased and injured employees worked for him. For example, on the day of the fatal explosion, 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.

          Johansson and NDSI submitted false statements to federal regulators to have the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) rescind an Out-of-Service Order which prohibited the company from operating approximately 37 cargo tanks to haul gasoline or ethanol because the FMCSA had determined that those cargo tanks presented safety risks. Johansson signed, under oath, an affidavit that falsely claimed NDSI had never engaged in tank repairs and that his shop manager worked for an outside tank-repair company.

          To circumvent the Out-of-Service Order, Johansson, at the end of 2014, converted NDSI to operate under the WDI name. WDI was a “reincarnated” or “chameleon” carrier – it had almost all the same employees and management as NDSI, and it operated out of the same warehouse, but with a new name to evade regulators. WDI continued to violate the Out-of-Service Order through early 2018 by using the prohibited cargo tanks to haul gasoline and ethanol.

          As part of the conspiracy and to further conceal his control of NDSI and WDI, Johansson did not file income tax returns for the years 2012 through 2017. Johansson failed to report to the federal government at least $1,174,173 in income from the trucking companies. He used that income to pay for personal expenses – including renting a large home in Corona for at least $12,000 per month and using company accounts to make $200,000 in tuition payments at his children’s private high schools and universities.

          In total, Johansson admitted to unlawfully avoiding the payment of at least $298,562 in federal income taxes from 2012 to 2017.

          COVID-Relief Fraud

          In April 2020, while free on bond in the explosion case, Johansson directed another trucking company he controlled, the Ontario-based Western Distribution LLC, to apply for a $436,390 PPP loan. After the loan was funded, Johansson directed Western Distribution in May and June of 2020 to immediately spend the PPP funds. Rather than use the funds to keep the company’s employees on staff, Johansson laid off most of the company’s employees, but rehired many of them in late 2020. To create the impression that Western Distribution had spent more of its PPP loan on its payroll than it did, in September 2020 Johansson moved 21 employees from a separate company that Johansson controlled – the Merced County-based Agri-comm Express Inc. – onto Western Distribution’s payroll, even though those employees never worked for Western Distribution.

          In March 2021, Johansson caused Western Distribution to repeat the same fraudulent representations concerning its employee lists and payroll numbers when the company submitted a second PPP loan application, this time for $231,527. The second loan application was also approved.

          The total loss in the COVID-relief fraud matter was approximately $954,417.

          At today’s sentencing hearing, Judge Phillips also sentenced NDSI and WDI to one year of probation. Each company pleaded guilty in September 2021 to one count of conspiring to make illegal repairs on cargo tanks and defrauding the United States Department of Transportation. NDSI pleaded guilty to an additional count of welding without required certifications. Judge Phillips also sentenced Western Distribution to three years of probation and ordered it to pay $667,917 in restitution. In September 2021, Western Distribution pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and one count of bank fraud.

          Enrique Garcia, 48, of Pomona, Johansson’s shop manager and co-defendant, pleaded guilty earlier this year to one count of welding without required certifications and was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison.

          Donald Cameron Spicer, 71, of Fullerton, Johansson’s safety manager and co-defendant, pleaded guilty to conspiring to make illegal repairs on the cargo tanks and to defraud the United States Department of Transportation. He is scheduled to be sentenced on February 6, 2023.

          The United States Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General and IRS Criminal Investigation investigated these matters.

          Assistant United States Attorneys Matthew W. O’Brien and Joseph O. Johns of the Environmental and Community Safety Crimes Section prosecuted this case.

          Anyone with information about allegations of attempted fraud involving COVID-19 can report it by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) Hotline at (866) 720-5721 or via the NCDF Web Complaint Form at: https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.

Contact

Ciaran McEvoy
Public Information Officer
ciaran.mcevoy@usdoj.gov
(213) 894-4465

Updated November 29, 2022

Topics
Coronavirus
Environmental Justice
Tax
Release Number: 22-253