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California tank truck companies’ owner gets 10 years for fatal explosion, other crimes

Charges include welding explosions, PPP fraud, income tax evasion

The owner of a pair of trucking companies got 10 years in federal prison for lots of things, including a welding explosion that killed a worker. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Carl Bradley Johansson, owner of a pair of California-based trucking companies, has been sentenced to 10 years in jail for several federal crimes, including one that resulted in a truck explosion that killed a welder.

Johansson, 64, pleaded guilty in September 2021 to two counts involving the tanker truck explosion, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California. It also marks the second time he has been convicted of a crime that involved the death of a welder working on one of his company’s trucks. 

Additionally, he pleaded guilty to one count of tax evasion, one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and one count of bank fraud. The bank fraud charges are a result of what the U.S. attorney said was a “scam” involving the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which funneled funds to thousands of trucking companies with the requirement that a certain percentage of those funds — it changed over time — be spent to keep employees working. Instead, prosecutors charged, he fired employees and spent the funds elsewhere. 

Johansson was sentenced Tuesday. 

According to the U.S. attorney, Johansson owned two companies based in Corona, California, which is in Riverside County, the heart of the Inland Empire. One was National Distribution Services (NDSI), which was in operation between 2009 and 2015, and the other was a successor company, Wholesale Distribution Inc. (WDI), which did business as Quality Services. 

Prior to starting NDSI, Johansson served a 15-month prison term related to the death of one of his welders killed in a tanker explosion, much like the latest charge involving a welding-related blast. 

“Johansson created WDI to take over NDSI’s operations so he could continue to illegally operate cargo tanks that were ordered out of service after two more welding-caused explosions at NDSI in 2012 and 2014,” the U.S. attorney’s statement said. 

In May 2014, according to a recap, the management of NDSI “ordered workers to do welding work on a tanker that had not been fully cleaned of the crude oil inside of it.” There was an explosion; one worker was killed and another was injured.

The 2018 indictment for that action spelled out in more detail what happened, according to a statement released in connection with the indictment. 

“After doing in-house repairs on at least a half-dozen cargo tanks — even though NDSI was not certified to conduct such repairs — Johansson and [NDSI manager Enrique] Garcia on May 5, 2014 discussed directing two NDSI workers to conduct welding on a cargo tank,” the statement said. “The following day, Garcia issued the orders to the employees, even after one of the welders told Garcia that it was not safe, according to the indictment. The two workers began a welding project on the cargo tank, which caused an explosion that killed one worker and seriously injured the man who had warned Garcia. Later that day, 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, the indictment alleges.”

The U.S. attorney’s office said that following the incident in 2014, “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.” The goal of the obstruction, the statement said, was to conceal that Johansson owned the companies and that the workers killed and hurt in the explosion were his employees. 

NDSI had approximately 37 tanker trucks, according to the statement. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration yanked its ability to operate, but according to the U.S. attorney, Johansson and the company “submitted false statements” to FMCSA to try to get the agency to reverse that decision.

For example, according to the U.S. attorney’s office, “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.”

And as part of the attempt to shield ownership, Johansson reportedly did not file federal income tax returns for 2012 through 2017, resulting in the income tax evasion charge. His income during those years was “at least” $1.1 million from the trucking companies according to the U.S. Attorney. 

When Johansson was free on bond on the explosion indictment, he directed Western Distribution to apply for a PPP loan, according to the U.S. Attorney. When the funds were obtained, he directed employees “to immediately spend the PPP funds.”

But the money wasn’t spent on keeping employees. Rather, the U.S. attorney said, most of his company’s employees were laid off, though rehired in late 2020. The U.S. attorney spelled out a convoluted movement of employees between Western Distribution and a non-trucking company Johansson also owned, all intended to cover up that the PPP funds were not being used to retain workers.

He pulled a similar action a year later. In the end, the total amount of PPP money that Johansson misdirected was about $954,000.

The scheme also resulted in the indictment and later guilty pleas of two of Johansson’s deputies. Garcia was sentenced to 30 months; the other awaits sentencing. 

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John Kingston

John has an almost 40-year career covering commodities, most of the time at S&P Global Platts. He created the Dated Brent benchmark, now the world’s most important crude oil marker. He was Director of Oil, Director of News, the editor in chief of Platts Oilgram News and the “talking head” for Platts on numerous media outlets, including CNBC, Fox Business and Canada’s BNN. He covered metals before joining Platts and then spent a year running Platts’ metals business as well. He was awarded the International Association of Energy Economics Award for Excellence in Written Journalism in 2015. In 2010, he won two Corporate Achievement Awards from McGraw-Hill, an extremely rare accomplishment, one for steering coverage of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster and the other for the launch of a public affairs television show, Platts Energy Week.