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Didion Milling officials found guilty of federal charges after 2017 corn mill explosion

The blast in Cambria, Wisconsin, killed 5 workers

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Didion Milling facility in Cambria after the May 2017 explosion
The Didion Milling, Inc. plant in Cambria, Wisc. after the fatal May 2017 explosion. Photo courtesy of CBS 58

Two officials from Didion Milling Inc., one current and one former, have been convicted of federal workplace safety, environmental, fraud and obstruction of justice charges following a 2017 explosion at the company’s corn mill in Cambria, Wisconsin. The blast killed five employees and injured others.

Derrick Clark, Didion’s vice president of operations, was found guilty on Oct. 13 of conspiring to falsify documents, making false Clean Air Act compliance certifications and obstructing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s investigation of the explosion, according to a U.S. Department of Justice press release.

Didion’s former food safety superintendent Shawn Mesner was also convicted of participating in a fraud conspiracy against the company’s customers and conspiring to obstruct and mislead OSHA for his role in falsifying sanitation records, DOJ said.

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Grain dust can be explosive, and OSHA requires grain milling facilities to have housekeeping programs to reduce dust accumulation. Clark and Mesner were convicted of participating in a conspiracy to falsify the Didion mill’s cleaning log, including directing others to backfill entries for uncompleted cleanings, according to DOJ.

“Their blatant actions demonstrated a callous disregard for the loss of life, injuries and property damage that occurred under their leadership,” said a statement by OSHA Regional Administrator Bill Donovan in Chicago. “Both Clark and Messner ignored their legal and moral obligation to protect workers before and after the explosion.”

The federal jury in Madison also acquitted former Didion environmental manager James Lenz of charges relating to falsifying environmental records and conspiring to make false statements and obstruct agency proceedings.

Last month, the company pleaded guilty to falsifying the cleaning logs at the mill and agreed to pay a criminal fine of $1 million and restitution of $10.25 million to the explosion’s victims.

Sentencing hearings will be scheduled at a later date, DOJ said.

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