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Thread: Investigator | Unsafe trucking companies change identities to dodge inspections

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    Investigator | Unsafe trucking companies change identities to dodge inspections

    NORTHEAST OHIO -- It's an 18-wheel con game. Trucking companies with horrible safety records that dodge inspectors by changing their names and so-called DOT numbers, as in the U. S. Department of Transportation (DOT).

    It's happening so often in northeast Ohio and across the country that they have a name for it.

    They're called 'chameleon carriers' and safety watchdogs say they're putting all drivers at risk.

    One such example involved Anthony Costello, of Lorain. He was about to retire when the truck he was driving suddenly crashed on I-90 in Lakewood, killing him.

    His family later learned the vehicle was too dangerous to drive.

    'There's no excuse for a vehicle like that to even be on the road," said his daughter Joanna.

    James Crawford, a crash reconstructionist with Introtech in Grafton, found the truck blew a tire which was badly-worn. He said the front axle was in such bad shape, it flew off the truck during the crash.

    'It had so many maintenance issues to begin with that it should hot have been on the road," Crawford said.

    Andy Young is regarded as a truck safety expert. He has his own 18-wheeler.

    He's also a Cleveland attorney who represents the Costello family. He blames Anthony's death on a poorly-maintained truck with serious safety violations.

    'It was definitely something that was sudden, unexpected and preventable," Young said.

    The family sued and won a $2.5 million settlement. But in a sad twist, they've so far collected nothing because the name change by the company left the truck uninsured, their attorney said.

    Creta Costello says her husband was driving a Haslage Fleet Service truck. He had been on the job only a week before the fatal crash.

    'Found out the truck should have been in the junkyard," Creta said.

    Young found the state ordered some company trucks off the road. According the lawsuit, federal regulators issued a warning letter because of the company's poor safety record.

    'The owner was aware of these issues and he put my father into a death trap that day," said Joanna.

    The government issues DOT numbers to identify companies and to monitor their safety records. But when safety scores go south, some companies obtain new numbers and change their names.

    'They're trying to make us think that they're a new company," said Ken Kearns, a state safety inspector. with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.

    Kearns says they're called chameleon companies and the Costello family says Anthony unknowingly worked for one.

    'It changed its stripes four times to avoid violations over the long haul," Young said.

    Young found the company operated under four names with four different DOT numbers. Phone calls to the company were not returned.

    The General Accounting Office (GAO) found the number of chameleon carriers is growing.

    'A lot of bad trucking companies fall under the radar and a lot of bad drivers marry up to those bad trucking companies," Young said.

    The GAO also found that 18 percent of chameleon companies were involved in severe crashes. That's three times as many companies that have not changed their identities.

    It's not that the state of Ohio isn't doing its job regarding roadside inspections. It's a case of too many trucks and too few inspectors.

    WKYC Channel 3 News spent a few hours with inspectors at a truck stop in Wadsworth. They found trucks with brakes that didn't work, bald and flat tires, overweight trucks, and broken parts that help control steering.

    Inspectors ordered several trucks out of service until repairs were made.

    Last year in Ohio, inspectors conducted 87,000 truck inspections. The inspections resulted in 18,000 trucks ordered off the road. The state says one in every five trucks -- or 21 percent -- are considered too dangerous to drive.

    Creta Costello knows now that the truck her husband was driving that tragic day also should have been removed from service. Her dreams of enjoying retirement with her husband have been shattered.

    As Joanna said, „she has to spend the rest of her life without him.”

    http://www.wkyc.com/news/investigati...ions/440155000

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    Prosecutors To Drop All Felonies Against Beam Brothers

    HARRISONBURG — Two months after federal prosecutors obtained 126 felony charges against four Beam Brothers Trucking executives, they struck a deal with the defendants, agreeing to settle the case with a plea to a misdemeanor.

    On March 16, the grand jury indicted co-owners Gerald Beam, 67, and Garland Beam, 62, Shaun Beam, 35, and Nikolas Kozel, 40, the company’s former CFO, alleging they conspired to defraud the United States, committed wire fraud and laundered money.

    On Tuesday, each pleaded guilty in U. S. District Court in Harrisonburg to misdemeanor conspiracy to violating highway safety laws.

    They face up to a year in prison.

    The deal must be approved by Judge Michael Urbanski. No sentencing date has yet been scheduled.

    The indictment claims the Mount Crawford company allowed drivers to falsify driving logs and failed to pay them appropriately for extra hours.

    Prosecutors plan to drop the felony charges as part of the deal.

    But for Beam family, the bargain came too late.

    With growing fears from creditors, Beam Brothers announced on April 13 that Eagle Express Lines of Homewood, Ill., would take over the trucking company and retain all of its employees. The $26 million deal became effective May 1.

    It’s unclear how much of the $26 million went to the company’s coffers and how much went to operating expenses from April 13 to May 1.

    'For generations, Beam Brothers Trucking demonstrated a singular commitment to its customers and employees,” said Mark Obenshain, Gerald Beam’s attorney and spokesman for the defense team. “We have and continue to maintain that this case illustrated government overreach of the highest order that destroyed a local family owned business.”

    Attorney Toby Vick, who represented Garland Beam, said prosecutors should target real criminals.

    'It’s a shame if this is what the U. S. Attorney’s Office is using its resources for,” he said.

    Gerald and Garland Beam issued a statement following the plea hearing: “We love and miss our employees. We are proud of what we were able to accomplish, growing a small family-owned hay hauler into one of the largest, safest and reliable mail carriers in the country. Beam Brothers was a family business in every sense of the word.”

    The plea deal prevents Gerald and Garland Beam from entering into any further contracts with the U. S. Postal Service.

    Also as part of the deal, the company agreed to plead guilty to a felony. In exchange, it will forfeit $2 million, pay $1 million in restitution and a $250,000 fine.

    The company, which hauled mail for the U. S. Postal Service, was under investigation for seven years before charges were brought.

    For most of the last decade, federal officials have led dual criminal and civil investigations into the company’s activities.

    The criminal investigation focused on whether the company’s logbooks for truck drivers were falsified and drivers’ pay altered.

    Eleven hours is the legal daily limit for commercial drivers under U. S. Department of Transportation regulations. Prosecutors, who allege drivers exceeded the limit, say the criminal activity started as long ago as June 1999.

    Previous Violations

    In the past, the company has settled civil violations for overworking drivers.

    In February 2003, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration fined Beam Brothers $22,670 after it found five violations during a routine compliance review.

    The agency accused the company of having employees drive more than allowed under law.

    The company settled with the safety administration and paid $20,000.

    And in February 2010, regulators found 23 similar violations against the company and fined Beam Brothers $31,480. The company settled $25,000.

    FMCSA told the company to avoid such violations in the future.

    The indictment is the first time the federal government has brought criminal charges against the company.

    Founded in 1932, Beam Brothers Trucking began hauling mail in 1995 under a contract with the U. S. Postal Service, which accounted for about 95 percent of the firm’s business. The company employed more than 600 drivers and support staff locally.

    http://www.dnronline.com/update/new-...f9ecc75a4.html

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    1 question. If the Federal DA & the Judge hearing this case agree to go from 126 felony counts to a misdemeanor, why do we bother to have laws? These very people swore an oath to uphold the laws they hired on to manage. I can see & understand plea bargains. But 126 felony counts to a misdemeanor? If that is not malfeasance of their office I don’t know what is. Von.

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    Quote Originally Posted by vongrimmenstein View Post
    1 question. If the Federal DA & the Judge hearing this case agree to go from 126 felony counts to a misdemeanor, why do we bother to have laws? These very people swore an oath to uphold the laws they hired on to manage. I can see & understand plea bargains. But 126 felony counts to a misdemeanor? If that is not malfeasance of their office I don’t know what is. Von.
    You're absolutely right Von... then people wonder why white collar crime is so prevalent these days. A slap on the hand is all they risk if they get caught.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Docker View Post
    You're absolutely right Von... then people wonder why white collar crime is so prevalent these days. A slap on the hand is all they risk if they get caught.
    If you've got the money to pay a hefty fine the government will gladly let you off with a stern warning not to do it again. Just look at the fines the big banks have paid the last few years, yet nobody went to jail for their misdeeds. For that matter they don't even have to admit guilt just pay the fine and go on their merry little way.

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    You nailed it Inigo. Money & lots of it will keep you out of the Penal System. No money? Plan on a visit with Bubba your new cell mate. von.
    Quote Originally Posted by Inigo Montoya View Post
    If you've got the money to pay a hefty fine the government will gladly let you off with a stern warning not to do it again. Just look at the fines the big banks have paid the last few years, yet nobody went to jail for their misdeeds. For that matter they don't even have to admit guilt just pay the fine and go on their merry little way.

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    FMCSA busts Georgia trucking company on many counts after fatal crash

    A Georgia trucking company has been declared an imminent hazard to public safety by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, according to a U. S. Department of Transportation news release. Following a fatal crash, DOT investigators discovered several violations committed by the company.

    In August, Dwight Anthony Preddie, co-owner of Decatur, Ga. -based Keep on Trucking, was driving a truck on Interstate 95 in Spotsylvania County, Va. Despite driving into a construction zone, Preddie kept his speed at 63 mph, according to a FMCSA report.

    As a result of failing to slow down, Preddie slammed into a Jeep Grand Cherokee traveling approximately 5 mph, pushing the Jeep into a stopped tractor-trailer and killing the driver of the Jeep. A passenger inside the Grand Cherokee was critically injured.

    Virginia State Police discovered that Preddie was driving with a suspended license, driving an uninsured vehicle and had violated hours-of-service regulations. Preddie also was charged with reckless driving.

    Investigations after the crash revealed Keep on Trucking violated numerous federal safety statues and regulations. Keep on Trucking failed to comply with any driver qualification requirements, including ensuring drivers were properly licensed and possessed a valid medical certificate.

    Furthermore, Keep on Trucking could not produce any records-of-duty-status documents, violating hours-of-service compliance requirements. Investigations also found that the company failed to monitor drivers’ operations, discovering several violations ranging from failure to use a safety belt to reckless driving.

    Preddie also did not regularly inspect, maintain and repair Keep on Trucking’s vehicles. DOT investigators could not find any copies of roadside inspections or receipts for repairs. In the past year, Keep on Trucking trucks have been cited for inoperable/defective brakes, broken/missing axle position components, inoperable lights, damaged windshield and battery installation deficiencies.

    Lastly, the Georgia trucking company did not possess the required operating authority nor did the company possess the minimum level of insurance required by federal regulations.

    Keep on Trucking was served the order to cease all operations on Nov. 2. The company faces up to $25,705 in civil penalties for each violation of the out-of-service order. The company may also face civil penalties of not less than $10,282 for not having current operating authority and up to $14,502 for operating a truck without proper DOT registration. As the investigation continues, the carrier could face criminal penalties and criminal prosecution.

    http://www.landlinemag.com/story.asp...3#.WgGWMHZrzX4

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    Well. It appears they will not keep on trucking, apparently. Unless they're savvy.

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