Trucking news and briefs for Friday, Oct. 1, 2021:
House skips vote on infrastructure bill as Congress kicks the can on funding
The U.S. House of Representatives set out to vote on a $1 trillion infrastructure bill on Thursday, but the vote never materialized as Democratic leadership of the House lost confidence that the bill would pass due to infighting with the progressive wing of the party. It also appears that it will be an uphill challenge for the vote to materialize on Friday.
As of 3 pm eastern time on Monday, no such vote has come up in the House.
Initially on Thursday, Rep John Katko (D-New York) broke with fellow House Republicans to call for a vote on the bill, for which the American Trucking Associations applauded him. The bill passed the Senate last month with strong bipartisan support and a 69-30 vote.
Notably, the Senate version of the bill now before the House does not include an insurance premium hike, as earlier House versions of the bill did.
Instead of the House voting on infrastructure and/or the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package Thursday, the Senate and later the House passed a stopgap spending bill that would avert a federal government shutdown through early December.
Former fleet owner pleads guilty in tanker explosion, PPP loan fraud case
The owner of several Southern California-based trucking companies has pleaded guilty to five felony charges, admitting he engaged in an array of criminal conduct, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.
Carl Bradley Johansson, 63, of Newport Beach, California, pleaded guilty Sept. 29 to two felony counts in relation to a tanker explosion – one count of conspiring to make illegal repairs on the cargo tanks and to defraud the United States Department of Transportation, and one count of welding without required certifications.
He also pleaded guilty to one count of tax evasion, one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and one count of bank fraud. Johansson admitted that he committed the bank fraud offenses stemming from a COVID-19 Paycheck Protection Program scam while he was on pretrial release in the gasoline tanker explosion case.
Johansson controlled and operated two Corona, California-based trucking companies: National Distribution Services Inc. (NDSI), which operated from about 2000 through 2015, and NDSI’s successor company, Wholesale Distribution Inc. (WDI), which does business as Quality Services. He established NDSI following a 15-month federal prison sentence he served after one of his welders was killed in a similar tanker explosion in 1993. Johansson created WDI to take over NDSI’s operations so he could continue to operate cargo tanks that were ordered out of service after two more welding explosions at NDSI in 2012 and 2014, according to court documents.
Despite NDSI not being certified to conduct in-house welding repairs on its cargo tanks, Johansson and his shop manager, co-defendant Enrique Garcia, discussed directing two NDSI workers to repair a cargo tank on May 5, 2014, and the following day, Garcia ordered the welding repairs. Because the tank had not been completely purged of its fumes and crude oil, the sparks from the welding caused an explosion, killing one worker and seriously injuring the other.
He also admitted that, from May 2014 to April 2018, he and other NDSI and WDI employees conspired to obstruct a federal investigation into the explosion.
In April 2020, while free on bond in the tanker case, Johansson directed another trucking company he controlled, Ontario, California-based Western Distribution LLC, to apply for a $436,390 PPP loan. He then immediately spent the PPP funds, largely on non-payroll expenses, and instead laid off most of the company’s employees before rehiring them later in 2020.
In March 2021, Johansson caused Western Distribution to repeat the same fraudulent representations concerning its employee lists and payroll numbers to obtain another PPP loan of $231,527.
The total loss in the COVID-relief fraud matter is approximately $667,917.
United States District Judge Virginia A. Phillips has scheduled a May 9, 2022, sentencing hearing, at which time Johansson will face a statutory maximum sentence of 100 years in federal prison.
Reefer fleet boosts driver pay
Pride Transport has announced a third pay increase to drivers in the last year.
The most recent pay increase, which took effect Friday, Oct. 1, joins the previous two pay increases from July 2021 and December 2020 for a total of 10 cents-per-mile pay increase for the year.
The company says its average truck driver will now be expected to make $70,000 in earnings annually, an increase of over 20% from pre-pandemic levels.
The new pay rate range for a solo over-the-road driver at Pride is now between 51 cpm up to 75 cpm. A $10,000 sign-on bonus is paid out at a rate of $100 per week during the first two years of employment.
Yokohama tire prices set to increase
In response to the rise of freight and operational costs, as well as the continued increase in the cost of raw materials, Yokohama Tire Corporation announced it will implement a price increase on its commercial truck tires and consumer replacement tires sold in the U.S., effective Nov. 1.