Jury Deliberations Begin in Atlantic States Case

A jury in a federal court is deciding whether or not Phillipsburg, N.J.-based Atlantic States Cast Iron Pipe Co. and five of its employees are guilty of flagrant violations of workplace safety and environmental standards, including concealing unsafe work conditions from OSHA and trying to cover up the circumstances of a workplace death.

Atlantic States, which is a division of Birmingham, Ala.-based McWane Inc., was indicted in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey in December 2003 on counts of conspiracy to violate federal laws and to defraud the government, making false statements to OSHA, obstructing OSHA and numerous violations of the Clean Water Act, among other charges.

The company and five of its employees are accused of repeatedly hiding serious injuries including broken bones, amputations and burns from furnaces and molten iron from OSHA inspectors as well as lying to OSHA about the circumstances leading to the death of employee Alfred Coxe, who was run over by a forklift that had bad brakes.

U.S. Attorney: Atlantic States Has 'Notorious History'

In addition to Atlantic States, the indictment charges John Prisque, the plant manager at the Phillipsburg facility during the time of the alleged crimes; Scott Faubert, the human resources manager; Jeffrey Maury, the maintenance superintendent; Daniel Yadzinski, the engineering manager and environmental manager; and Craig Davidson, the finishing superintendent.

All of the defendants are charged with conspiring to violate worker safety and environmental laws "in an effort to maximize production of iron pipe and to minimize production costs, workers' compensation claims and time off for injured employees," according to Christopher Christie, the U.S. attorney for the District of New Jersey.

"This company has a notorious history of wanton pollution of our environment, evading detection at all costs and ruling the workplace through fear and intimidation of employees, all of which is alleged in this indictment," Christie said when the indictment was unsealed in 2003. "The indictment paints a picture of an anything-goes philosophy in Atlantic Pipe's pursuit of maximum worker output and profits at the cost of worker health and safety. These were not mere accidents. Rather, the indictment charges that it was company policy to put employees in harm's way, pollute the environment and continuously cover up criminal acts."

The defendants have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

According to Michael Drewniak, the public affairs officer for Christie's office, jury deliberations began earlier this week but have been postponed until April 17.

Indictment: Employees Fixed Brakes on Forklift Before OSHA Arrived

The 35-count indictment includes charges that Atlantic States and the five employees conspired to "hamper, hinder, impede, impair and obstruct by craft, trickery, deceit and dishonest means the lawful and legitimate functions of … OSHA in enforcing federal safety and health regulations … and EPA in enforcing the federal environmental regulations."

Among other charges, the indictment alleges that Atlantic States and/or the five employees conspired to:

  • Allow workers to drive faulty and unsafe forklifts without proper training, which contributed to Coxe's death on March 24, 2000.
  • Mislead OSHA about the circumstances of Coxe's death by repairing the forklift's brakes which were faulty and known to leak brake fluid before OSHA inspectors got to the scene. In addition, Maury is accused of preparing a report stating that the forklift that killed Coxe was in perfect working condition.
  • Lie under oath, during a deposition in a civil lawsuit filed by Coxe's estate, that the company did not repair the forklift that killed Coxe prior to the arrival of OSHA inspectors.
  • Alter existing conditions at the plant for example, by reinstalling the safety doors on chop saws and reinstalling guard belts on other equipment to conceal unsafe working conditions from OSHA officials prior to inspections. The indictment alleges this took place on a regular basis from about January 1999 to December 2002.
  • Instruct other workers on how to stall OSHA inspectors upon their arrival at the Phillipsburg facility.
  • Hide several workplace accidents, including one in which a worker sustained a broken leg after being hit by a forklift, from OHSA by omitting them from the company's OSHA 200 log.
  • Pump 50 to 100 gallons or more of petroleum-contaminated wastewater from a cement pit into a storm drain that led to the Delaware River, at least once a week for about 6 years.
  • Pump petroleum-contaminated wastewater from a cement pit through a hose into a storm drain that led to the Delaware River, "causing an 8.5-mile oily sheen" on the river.

Charges Carry Prison Time, Fines

The conspiracy charge, which applies to the company and all five defendants, carries a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the individuals and a maximum fine of $500,000 for the company.

The five employees also face various individual charges.

Prisque, in addition to charges of violating environmental laws, was charged with four counts of obstruction of an OSHA investigation, three of which carry a maximum prison sentence of 5 years and one of which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years.

Faubert is charged with two counts of making false statements to OSHA, each of which carries a maximum prison sentence of 5 years, and two counts of obstructing an OSHA investigation. Maury, in addition to charges of violating environmental laws, faces one count of making false statements to OSHA and one count of obstructing an OSHA investigation.

Yadzinski and Davidson each are charged with violating environmental laws.

Atlantic States is charged in all counts of the indictment.

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