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Government agencies like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will investigate all employment-related fatalities. OSHA’s investigation may uncover unintentional wrongdoing by the company and employees. Individuals and corporations who view themselves as being “law-abiding citizens” frequently find themselves being accused of white-collar crimes. In this case, we see an unintentional mistake by the corporation in the training and enforcement of safety laws for employees, as well as one worker’s attempt to whitewash an OSHA rules violation. We also see the consequences that followed.
Corporate executives and leaders should make decisions with a full understanding of how employees’ actions can negatively affect the company and how government investigators will perceive them based on their own action or inaction. Knowledge of consequences may result in better decision-making processes for employees, lessening the chances of exposure to investigations and prosecutions for white-collar crimes.
This case study profiles Stephen Todd Reisinger a maintenance manager at C&J Well Services, formerly doing business as Nabors Completion and Production Services (NCPS). At the time of the industrial accident, Reisinger managed 40 employees for NCPS, including one worker killed in an explosion while welding the inside of a water tank truck. All the information in this Background comes from three sources – the criminal indictment against Reisinger, the plea agreement, and a local newspaper article.
According to the indictment, during an OSHA investigation surrounding the worker fatality, Reisinger made at least six misleading statements to OSHA investigators about NCPS’ processes and procedures when welding inside of a tanker truck. Further, Reisinger also intentionally concealed evidence in a seventh statement concerning completion of necessary forms to be completed during the welding process. OSHA investigators turned the case over to a prosecutor, and the prosecutor convened a grand jury in federal district court.
A grand jury consists of a group of citizens. In this case, the panel of citizens listened to evidence investigators gathered to implicate Reisinger in federal crimes. The grand jury found sufficient evidence existed against Reisinger to charge him with Obstruction of an OSHA Proceeding (similar to obstruction of justice). Obstruction of justice is a crime. It prevents prosecutors, investigators, or other government officials from conducting an official investigation. Obstruction is a broad crime that may include acts such as perjury, making false statements to officials, destruction of evidence, and many others.
As a result of the Obstruction charge, Reisinger faced a 5-year federal prison sentence, as well as fines of up to $250,000 per offense. As part of his plea agreement, Reisinger agreed to cooperate with prosecutors, and prosecutors agreed to seek a federal prison sentence of 18 – 24 months at the time of his sentencing hearing, fines not in excess of $250,000, and require restitution to the victim’s family under the Mandatory Restitution to Victims Act. The MRVA states a victim (or a victim’s family) of a crime may be entitled to an order of restitution for losses suffered as a direct result of the commission of the crime for which the defendant was convicted, including reimbursement to the victim (or victim’s family) for income lost by such victim as a result of such offense.
OSHA investigators also pursued charges against Reisinger’s employer, NCPS, resulting from the fatal work accident. NCPS was a small trucking company in North Dakota. While Reisinger was a maintenance manager for NCPS, the executives and officers were unaware the employees routinely bypassed safety precautions at this facility. Despite their lack of intent to commit a crime, officials at NCPS found themselves in the crosshairs of this investigation. NCPS’ successor company, C&J Well Services, also pled guilty to charges related to OSHA violations resulting in a sentence of $2.1 million in fines and restitution. With proper training NCPS executives could have avoided this problem altogether.
according to the information presented by the government, Reisinger made decisions with a clear intention to deceive investigators. Although he may have lived most of his life as an honorable person, the evidence suggests that he got himself into trouble by failing to enforce OSHA regulations for the safety of his employees. These types of mistakes can lead to decades in prison and thousands of dollars of fines and restitution orders. Regarding the Obstruction charge, it is important to know that a person does not have to respond to questions from a law-enforcement officer. On the other hand, if a person chooses to respond, he should tell the truth. Lying to a federal law enforcement officer is a federal crime, punishable by up to five years in federal prison for each offense. A person may face criminal charges for lying to a federal officer regardless of whether the person is under oath.
Based on Reisinger’s plea agreement, judicial proceedings that follow will include a sentencing hearing. Prosecutors have already agreed to limit his exposure to prison to no less than 18 months and no more than 24 months. Since Reisinger pled guilty, he will undergo a presentence investigation with a probation officer. The probation officer will complete a presentence report that will influence the sentence length. Reisinger’s best option now will be to craft an effective mitigation strategy. That strategy should show the judge that Reisinger has a full grasp of the crime he committed. His mitigation strategy should show empathy for the victims of his crime, show what he learned from the experience, and help the judge understand what steps he has taken to make things right.
The criminal indictment charged Reisinger with obstruction of an OSHA investigation. The charges are a direct result of his decisions during the investigation. Reisinger and NCPS chose to ignore safety rules. Reisinger also chose to lie to federal investigators. The crime with which he was charged (obstruction) became a bad response to the pressures he created. Reisinger’s behavior mirrors the behavior of many people who have been convicted of white-collar crimes. They get into a bad situation. Then, normal people turn to criminal behavior, not understanding the consequences. As a result of Reisinger’s actions, NCPS also faced criminal charges for failing to enforce safety regulations and eventually paid $2.1 million in fines and restitution.
We recommend more and better training for white-collar professionals to profile the personal stories of people that broke the law as a part of their regular job duties. When people understand how authorities view violations of federal law, obstruction of justice, and lying to federal officers, they may be more inclined to make law-abiding decisions. We like to say that people are innocent until proven guilty. Before his sentencing hearing, Reisinger’s best option will be to craft an effective mitigation strategy. This strategy should show the judge that Reisinger has a full grasp of the crimes he committed. His mitigation strategy should show empathy for the victims of his crime, show what he learned from the experience, and help the judge understand what steps he has taken to make things right.
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