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U.S. Arrests Recalcitrant Contractor

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

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U.S. Marshals have taken into custody an Illinois sewer and water contractor who has allegedly refused to abate years of federal health and safety violations and to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.

The arrest Oct. 27 of Mike Neri, of Elk Grove, IL, follows a year of escalating enforcement measures by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, culminating in an order by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

Photos: OSHA

OSHA says an Illinois sewer and water contractor has repeatedly racked up, then ignored, large fines and federal citations for hazards that threatened workers' lives. He has been arrested.

The enforcement measures follow several years of accumulating violations by Neri, owner of Mike Neri Sewer & Water Contractor Inc., authorities say.

Violation History

OSHA records show five separate citations, totaling 25 violations, against Neri since 2009. Those cases include:

  • Two willful, two repeat and one other-than-serious violation and $150,920 in fines after a 2013 inspection;
  • Three willful, three repeat and one serious violation and $110,440 in fines after a 2010 inspection;
  • One willful, one repeat and one serious violation and $23,320 in fines (tentatively reduced to $5,000) in 2011; and
  • Seven serious violations and $4,800 in fines (tentatively halved) from 2009.

The violations alleged cover the gamut: from lack of training and lack of protective systems for workers to repeated violation of excavation requirements

Willful violations are OSHA's highest level of infraction, reserved for violations "committed with intentional, knowing or voluntary disregard for the law's requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health."

OSHA inspectors reported that Neri excavation sites had no protection against trench cave-ins and that large piles of soil, chunks of asphalt and other excavated material were left at the edge of trenches that were eight feet deep.

OSHA trenching standards mandate that all excavations five feet or deeper be protected against collapse and that excavated material be at least two feet from the trench opening.

The contractor was placed in OSHA's Severe Violator Enforcement Program in the spring of 2013.

Trench cavein

Trench cave-ins can happen without warning, and with fatal consequences. In 2011, OSHA Compliance Officer Rick Burns was inspecting an Ohio jobsite and ordered workers out of the unsecured trench at left. Minutes later, the trench collapsed (right).

"OSHA implemented a trenching and excavation special emphasis program in the 1980s, so the industry, including Neri, who has been in this business for decades, should be well aware of the safety regulations for trenching operations and the potential hazards to workers," said Diane Turek, then of OSHA's Chicago North Area Office, said last year.

Escalating Enforcement

More than a year ago, court records show, OSHA applied for summary enforcement of an order requiring Neri specifically to abate six violations and pay his fines. The Court of Appeals granted the application.

Still, the court says, Neri ignored the order. In May 2014, OSHA moved for a judgment of civil contempt. Neri did not respond to the motion, and the court granted the order on July 29, ruling both Neri and his company in contempt.

Neri was given 10 days to comply and was warned that failure to do so could lead to "coercive sanctions, including incarceration," the record says.

After nearly a month of silence, OSHA filed a motion requesting coercive sanctions. The court agreed and gave Neri until Sept. 19—and, later, until Oct. 15—to comply.

"No response has been filed, and no communication received from the contractor or from Mike Neri," the court record says.

On Oct. 27, the court issued the arrest order, which included a search warrant for Neri's permises.

Neri was arrested and will be held until he complies with the court order or "clearly demonstrate[s] that he is unable to comply."

A Special Master was appointed to recommend to the court "whether, and if so when, Mike Neri has complied and is eligible for release," the record reports.

"Mike Neri should remain in custody pending that decision."

   

Tagged categories: Certifications and standards; Contractors; Health & Safety; Health and safety; North America; OSHA; Sewer systems

Comment from Gary Burke, (11/5/2014, 10:31 AM)

make the guy pay or close his business down! A lot of people believe they are above the law.


Comment from Mark Anater, (11/5/2014, 11:22 AM)

This guy is an extreme example of a widespread mentality among construction owners. "It's my business how I run things, and nobody else better tell me otherwise, especially the government." They imagine themselves John Galts, but they are just small fish with overinflated egos who can and will be slapped down when they misbehave.


Comment from M. Halliwell, (11/6/2014, 10:49 AM)

He's not that extreme an example, Mark....there are lots of these guys being reported on these days. Going after him personally is great....may get some temporary results...but he'll fold the current company, open simultaneously with a new company name and have a "clean" record once he's out so he can keep doing what he's been doing.


Comment from michael deaton, (11/7/2014, 5:32 AM)

This seems to be a pattern of Illinois business owners. I have personally watched "under the table" actions when it wasn't even necessary. When they get caught, they close shop and pass the business off to another family member. Paper swap. What goes around, ALWAYS comes back around!


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