Milling company Didion Milling Inc. has agreed to plead guilty to federal charges related to the falsification of records leading up to a fatal corn dust explosion at its Cambria, Wisconsin mill in May 2017. The plea deal includes a $1 million fine and a payment of $10.25 million to the estates of the five workers who lost their lives in the blast. Didion Milling Inc. has also agreed to a five-year “organizational probation” and will be subject to unannounced visits by federal inspectors up to twice a year.
A federal grand jury had previously indicted Didion Milling Inc. on nine counts, including falsifying records, fraud, and conspiracy. Court documents revealed that shift employees and supervisors knowingly falsified logbooks used by inspectors to assess the safe handling of corn dust and compliance with dust-cleaning regulations from 2015 until May 2017. Corn dust is highly combustible, and high concentrations in the air can lead to explosions. Grain mill operators are required to conduct regular cleanings to minimize dust accumulations that could fuel such explosions.
In addition to the federal charges, Didion Milling Inc. recently settled a lawsuit with the Wisconsin Department of Justice, agreeing to pay $940,000 for multiple regulatory violations at the Cambria plant.
Three Didion officials, Derrick Clark, Shawn Mesner, and James Lentz, are scheduled to stand trial on Monday in federal court in Madison. They face charges that include conspiracy, fraud, and falsifying records.