MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A milling company has agreed to plead guilty to federal charges that employees at a Wisconsin corn plant falsified records in the years leading up to a fatal corn dust explosion.
The plea deal calls for Didion Milling Inc. to pay a $1 million fine and $10.25 million to the estates of the five workers who were killed in the blast at the company’s Cambria mill in May 2017, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.
The company also has agreed to a five-year “organizational probation” and must allow federal inspectors to visit the mill without advance notice up to twice a year.
A federal grand jury indicted Didion last year on nine counts, including falsifying records, fraud and conspiracy. According to court documents, Didion shift employees and supervisors knowingly falsified logbooks inspectors use to determine whether the plant was handling corn dust safely and complying with dust-cleaning rules from 2015 until May 2017.
Corn dust is combustible; if concentrations in the air reach a high level a spark or other ignition source can cause it to catch fire and explode. Federal regulations require grain mill operators to perform regular cleanings to reduce dust accumulations that could fuel a blast.
Didion last month agreed to pay the Wisconsin Department of Justice $940,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging multiple regulatory violations at the Cambria plant.
A Didion spokesperson didn’t immediate respond to an email from The Associated Press seeking comment on the plea deal.
Three Didion officials — Derrick Clark, who was vice president of operations; Shawn Mesner, who was food safety superintendent; and James Lentz, who was environmental manager — are scheduled to stand trial Monday in federal court in Madison on charges that include conspiracy, fraud and falsifying records.