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Trucking company owner sentenced for fatal tanker explosion in 2014

Dec. 2, 2022
Carl Bradley Johansson, of Newport Beach, California, receives 10 years in federal prison for explosion that killed a second one of his welders, tax evasion, and fraud

The owner of several trucking companies was sentenced to 120 months in federal prison for ordering the illegal repair of a tanker that resulted in an explosion and the death of one his employees, according to the U.S. attorney’s office for the Central District of California.

Carl Bradley Johansson, 64, of Newport Beach, California, also was sentenced Nov. 29 for tax evasion and fraudulently obtaining nearly $1 million in COVID-relief money while free on bond in the tanker explosion case. He was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Virginia A. Phillips, who also ordered Johansson to pay $1.2 million in restitution.

Johansson pleaded guilty in September 2021 to two felony counts in relation to the tank explosion—one count of conspiring to make illegal repairs on the cargo tanks and defraud the Department of Transportation, and one count of welding without required certifications. He also pleaded guilty to one count of tax evasion, one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, and one count of bank fraud, the attorney’s office said in a release.

Johansson admitted he committed the bank fraud offenses stemming from the PPP scam while on pretrial release in the tanker explosion case. Johansson has been in custody since his arrest on the PPP charges in July 2021.

Repeat offender

The explosion was the second time one of Johansson’s welders was killed.

He controlled and operated two Corona, California-based trucking companies—National Distribution Services (NDSI), which operated from about 2009 through 2015, and NDSI’s successor company, Wholesale Distribution (WDI), which did business as Quality Services. Johansson established NDSI following a 15-month federal prison sentence he served after the first of his welders was killed in a 1993 tanker explosion. Johansson created WDI to take over NDSI’s operations so he could continue to illegally operate cargo tanks ordered out of service after two more welding-caused explosions at NDSI in 2012 and 2014.

On May 6, 2014, NDSI management ordered workers to do welding work on a tanker that had not been fully cleaned of the crude oil inside of it. This resulted in an explosion that killed a company welder and severely injured a second worker.

See also: Idaho man sentenced after illegal tank repair

For the next four years, Johansson and other employees of NDSI and WDI conspired to obstruct a federal investigation into the explosion by making multiple false statements to local, state, and federal officials to conceal that NDSI had conducted illegal welding repairs, that Johansson controlled NDSI and WDI, and that the deceased and injured employees worked for him, the attorney’s office said. For example, on the day of the fatal explosion, when investigators arrived at NDSI, Johansson identified himself as being a customer service representative with another company and said the welders were employed by an outside tank-repair company.

Johansson and NDSI submitted false statements to federal regulators to have the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) rescind an Out-of-Service Order that prohibited the company from operating approximately 37 cargo tanks to haul gasoline or ethanol because the FMCSA had determined those cargo tanks presented safety risks. Johansson signed, under oath, an affidavit that falsely claimed NDSI had never engaged in tank repairs and that his shop manager worked for an outside tank repair company.

‘Chameleon’ carrier

To circumvent the Out-of-Service Order, Johansson, at the end of 2014, converted NDSI to operate under the WDI name. WDI was a “reincarnated” or “chameleon” carrier—it had almost all the same employees and management as NDSI, and it operated out of the same warehouse, but with a new name to evade regulators. WDI continued to violate the Out-of-Service Order through early 2018 by using the prohibited cargo tanks to haul gasoline and ethanol.

As part of the conspiracy and to further conceal his control of NDSI and WDI, Johansson did not file income tax returns for the years 2012 through 2017. Johansson failed to report to the federal government at least $1.1 million in income from the trucking companies. He used that income to pay for personal expenses, including renting a large home in Corona for at least $12,000 per month and using company accounts to make $200,000 in tuition payments at his children’s private high schools and universities.

In total, Johansson admitted to unlawfully avoiding the payment of at least $298,562 in federal income taxes from 2012 to 2017.

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BT staff