CORPORATE CRIME REPORTER
the Way Out the Door, Murkowski Pardons a Corporate Criminal
21 Corporate Crime Reporter 5, January 25, 2007
More than 5,000 Americans are killed every year on the job.
A good chunk of those deaths could result in criminal prosecutions and convictions.
But for the most part, they don’t.
They don’t because local prosecutors don’t have the training or the resources or the political will to bring such prosecutions.
Every year, there are only a handful of such criminal prosecutions nationwide. For reckless homicide. Or for negligent homicide. Or for criminal law violations of state worker safety laws.
When such prosecutions are brought, and when guilty verdicts are secured, it brings a measure of peace and justice to the families of the deceased.
Even more rare than a successful criminal prosecution of a corporation for the death of a worker is the pardon of such a corporate criminal.
In fact, in more than 20 years reporting on corporate crime, we have never heard of a corporate criminal being pardoned.
Until last month.
Leave it to Frank Murkowski, the outgoing governor of the state of Alaska.
In July 2000, the state of Alaska charged the Bellingham, Washington-based Whitewater Engineering with negligent homicide and the company’s CEO, Thom Fischer, with manslaughter – for the April 1999 death of a worker – Gary Stone.
In a plea deal, the charges against Fischer were dropped, the company pled no contest – the equivalent of a guilty plea – and was fined $150,000.
The company never paid the fine, but it was forced to pay Stone’s family $17,000 in compensation.
The corporate plea was only the second time in Alaska history that a company had been convicted for the death of a worker.
On December 24, 2006, Alaska Governor Frank Murkowski, in one of his last official acts and just days before leaving office, pardoned Whitewater Engineering – without telling the family members of the victim.
They learned of the pardon from a newspaper reporter.
“This is a huge slap on the face,” said Stone’s daughter, Julia Ridinger who burst into tears when told about the pardon last month by a reporter from the Anchorage Daily News.
The death of Stone was “a tragic accident caused by a snow avalanche in Alaska's harsh climate,” Murkowski said when he issued the pardon.
According to press reports, Stone was working on a $15 million hydroelectric project in a valley outside Cordova. He was on a backhoe with an avalanche buried him.
State worker health officials reported at the time that workers had complained about the danger and an avalanche expert hired by the company had warned the company there was a high probability of a serious snow slide on the site.
The press, public and legislators in Alaska are not happy with Murkowski’s pardon of this corporate criminal.
After the pardon, Fischer told reporters that the pardon “removed the cloud that we work under.”
The cloud, as it turns out, is more than just guilt.
It probably means that the company won’t have to pay close to a quarter of a million dollars in accumulated fines and interest.
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