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Home / Neighborhood / Orange County / Trucking executive pleads guilty to fraud, explosion cover-up

Trucking executive pleads guilty to fraud, explosion cover-up

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A 63-year-old man who owns several trucking companies in Newport Beach has pleaded guilty to ordering illegal repairs that killed an employee, in addition to tax evasion and fraudulently using COVID-19 pandemic relief while out on bail, federal prosecutors said Thursday.

Carl Bradley Johansson of Newport Beach pleaded guilty Wednesday in federal court in Los Angeles and was scheduled to be sentenced May 9, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Johansson served a 15-month federal prison sentence previously, after a welder who worked from him died in a tanker explosion in 1993, according to prosecutors. He established one of his Corona-based companies, National Distribution Services Inc., which was in operation from 2009 through 2015, but then created Wholesale Distribution Inc. after two more welding explosions at NDSI in 2012 and 2014 so he could keep operating cargo tanks, prosecutors said.

His company lacked certification to do in-house welding repairs on its cargo tanks, but he and co-defendant Enrique Garcia, 46, of Pomona, who served as Johansson’s shop manager, assigned two welders to repair a cargo tank on May 5, 2014. The tank they worked on had not been cleared of fumes and crude oil, so it blew up the next day and killed one of the company’s workers. Another was seriously injured.

Johansson also admitted that from May 2014 through April 2018 he conspired to foil a federal investigation into the May 6, 2014, explosion by lying about the illegal welding repairs.

In August 2014, he was ordered to stop using about 37 cargo tanks because a federal agency deemed them unsafe, but he kept using them to transport gas and ethanol anyway.

He then converted the NDSI to operate as WDI to get around the order to stop using the cargo tanks. He also failed to file income tax returns from 2012 through 2017 to evade detection of the conspiracy and failed to report $1.1 million in income and instead use the money to pay for personal expenses like renting a home in Corona for $12,000 a month and to pay for his children’s tuition.

Johansson failed to pay $298,562 in federal income taxes.

While out on bail in the tanker case, he received a Covid-19 relief Paycheck Protection Program loan of $436,390 last year. Instead of using the money to keep his workers on staff, he laid most of them off but rehired many of them late last year. He moved around 21 employees from among his companies to make it appear he kept workers on the payroll.

He did the same thing with another PPP loan for $231,527 in March of this year. In total, the loss in pandemic relief was $667,917.

The companies, Western Distribution LLC, WDI and NDSI, pleaded guilty as well on Wednesday, prosecutors said.

Another co-defendant, Donald Cameron Spicer, 69, of Fullerton, who worked as safety manager for Johansson’s companies, pleaded guilty Aug. 16 to the illegal repairs on cargo tanks and to defrauding the federal transportation department and is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 14.

Garcia is scheduled to go on trial Jan. 18.

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