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Tortilla factory owner arrested for failure to pay work comp coverage

Over the past year, our workers' compensation defense blog has been covering a rather tragic story involving an employee who was killed in a workplace accident at a Brooklyn-based tortilla company.

In January 2011, Juan B., a 22-year-old employee from Guatemala, was killed when he fell into an industrial dough mixer at the Tortilleria Chinantla and became caught in the machine's massive churning instruments.

Last August, officials with the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) completed their investigation into the incident, issuing Tortilleria Chinantla eight citations totaling more than $62,000 for various workplace safety violations.

Six of these OSHA citations were for "serious" violations, while another was for a "willful" violation, meaning it was "committed with intentional knowing or voluntary disregard for the law's requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health."

(Willful violations are the most serious type of violation handed down by OSHA and are punishable by a fine of $42,000.)

In recent developments, it appears as if the owner of the Tortilleria Chinantla is once again facing a serious legal problem. However, this time the legal problem has nothing to do with the fatal workplace accident, but rather with the failure to provide the necessary work comp coverage.

News reports indicate that Erasmo P. was arrested last week and charged with multiple crimes, including filing false tax documents, failing to pay overtime wages and failing to contribute to workers' compensation insurance.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman made the decision to pursue charges against Erasmo P. after reviewing the findings of a comprehensive investigation performed by the New York State Workers' Compensation Board.

"My office is committed to vigorous enforcement of the laws protecting New York's workers," said Schneiderman. "We will aggressively pursue employers who violate labor laws, including criminally when appropriate."

Erasmo P. was released without bail and pled not guilty to the charges. In fact, his attorney has already stated that the charges were unnecessary and likely the result of political maneuvering.

"We think that they are really using Mr. [P.] as an example or as a posterboard for other small businesses that don't have workers' compensation," said attorney Manuel Portela.

Stay tuned for further updates in the area of workers' compensation defense law ...

If you are a California employer facing a real problem -- prospective OSHA fine, prosecution regarding work comp coverage, an employee injury or litigation -- there are steps that can be taken to minimize the consequences. In these difficult circumstances, you may want to consider consulting with an experienced legal professional.

This post was provided for informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice. Names have been withheld to protect the identity of the parties.


The New York Daily News, "Tortilla factory owner arrested after probe by AG Schneiderman" March 28, 2012

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