A maintenance manager at a fuel trucking company obstructed an OSHA investigation after an employee fatality occurred at the trucking facility. OSHA investigators uncovered a lack of proper employee training at this facility and the maintenance manager lied to OSHA officials about his knowledge of the correct procedures to follow.
Federal prosecutors brought charges against the maintenance manager and the company. The company pled guilty and paid millions of dollars in fines. The indictment exposed the manager to the potential loss of liberty and payment of thousands of dollars in restitution and fines.
Information in this case study comes from the criminal indictment, the plea agreement, a local newspaper article, and OSHA.gov.
Upon completion of this Case Study, participants should:
- Understand the importance of an OSHA investigation to your business and Obstruction with an OSHA proceeding;
- Describe the consequences of failing to enforce OSHA regulations;
- Identify penalties for making false statements to federal investigators;
- Understand what an indictment means for a corporate defendant;
- Explain the basic concept of restitution to victims.
State of the Industry
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) investigates employment-related fatalities. Congress created the agency in 1970 as part of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. OSHA exists to “ensure safe and healthful working conditions for workers by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance.”
Under the Act, employers are responsible for providing safe working environments for employees. Employer and employee rights and responsibilities that meet OSHA standards are a required component of any businesses’ operations. The agency conducts regular inspections, during which OSHA inspectors may uncover unintentional wrongdoing by the company and employees.
Background and Analysis
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). In 2014, an oilfield worker perished in an explosion while welding the inside of a water tank truck. At the time of the industrial accident, Reisinger managed 40 employees for NCPS. OSHA launched an investigation into the worker’s death.
While the investigation was underway, 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 the 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.
The criminal charges of obstruction of an OSHA investigation were a direct result of Reisinger’s decisions during the investigation. Reisinger and NCPS chose to ignore safety rules. Reisinger also chose to lie to federal investigators.
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 behavior mirrors the behavior of many people who have been convicted of white-collar crimes. When non-criminogenic people get into a bad situation, they may 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.
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.
- USA v. Reisinger, Docket No. 1:19-cr-00240 (D.N.D. Dec 04, 2019), Court Docket (bloomberglaw.com)
- Former Oilfield Manager Pleads Guilty in Connection with OSHA Worker Fatality Investigation | OPA | Department of Justice