Montana man sentenced to jail term for mislabeling and falsifying records related to transporting explosive materials
BILLINGS, MT - A Montana trucking company owner received a jail sentence of one year and a day in prison Friday on charges related to a December 2012 explosion at an oil processing plant that injured three employees.
U.S. District Judge Susan Watters ordered Donald Wood, Jr. of Baker and his company, Woody's Trucking, to pay $1.3 million in penalties and restitution.
The United States obtained a guilty verdict in United States v. Woody’s Trucking, LLC and Donald E. Wood, Jr. after an eight-day jury trial in Billings, Montana. Both defendants were charged with conspiracy, wire fraud, mail fraud, placarding violations and obstruction of justice stemming from an explosion at an oil and gas processing facility in Wibaux, Montana. The defendants were convicted of 13 of 14 counts. The one count of acquittal related to one of the placarding violations. Forfeiture in the case amounts to $644,689.70.
On December 29, 2012, a driver for Woody's Trucking, loaded natural gas condensate, or "drip gas," from a pipeline station that transports products from the Bakken oil fields in Montana and North Dakota. The drip gas was hauled from Watford City, North Dakota, to Custom Carbon Processing, Inc. (CCP). CCP is a slop-oil processing/recycling company based near Wibaux, Montana.
The bill of lading that accompanied the shipment identified the product as "slop oil and water," which is a non-hazardous substance. However, while the driver was pumping from the truck’s front tank into the CCP facility, a fire ignited, injuring three employees.
The tanks on the truck burned for eight days until the local fire department could determine that they held drip gas and not slop oil and water, as indicated on the bill of lading. Drip gas is a hazardous material and the truck was not placarded to indicate it held a flammable liquid. Three employees were seriously injured in the explosion.
Witnesses at trial testified that the CEO of the company, Donald Wood, Jr., directed the driver to place a falsified Bill of Lading in the burned out truck several days after the explosion. The reason was to cover up the fact that the company was hauling drip gas without placards. Furthermore, the company had no insurance coverage for hauling drip gas.
Sometime after the explosion, the employees of the burned facility sued Woody’s Trucking, the owners of the CCP facility and others for negligence in a civil action. Woody’s submitted the lawsuit to their insurance company for payment of costs, attorney fees and payment of the eventual settlements to the injured workers. The insurance company agreed to settle the claims, but always maintained that there was no coverage for hauling drip gas.
U.S. Attorney Kurt Alme stated, “I want to thank the prosecution team and the representatives from the Department of Transportation and Environmental Protection Agency that coordinated on this important investigation. Mislabeling and submitting false documents to conceal the presence of explosive material on public highways are serious criminal matters that will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. As this case demonstrates, the failure to properly disclose and label hazardous materials can endanger lives.”
“The defendants in this case tried to cover up safety violations by providing falsified documents to first responders, showing little regard for the safety of first responders, public health, or environmental damage,” said Susan Bodine, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “Today’s guilty verdict shows that EPA, our law enforcement partners, and the jury agree that those who choose to disregard laws designed to keep our communities safe from chemical accidents should be held accountable for their actions.”
The jury deliberated for 3 hours before finding both defendants guilty of 13 of 14 counts.
The case was tried by AUSA Adam Duerk and SAUSA Eric Nelson of the EPA. The United States’ Attorney’s Office conducted this investigation with the Environmental Protection Agency - Criminal Investigation Division as well as the Department of Transportation.