Guilty Pleas Entered in South Carolina Motor Carrier Fraud Case
USDOT Office of the Inspector General
September 3, 1998
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, September 3, 1998
Contact: Jeff Nelligan
Telephone: (202) 366-6312
Four South Carolina defendants in a motor carrier fraud case pleaded guilty this week to charges they conspired to make false statements to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), the Department's Office of Inspector General today announced.
John E. and Linda M. Blackwell, owner-operators of Blackwell Auto Brokers Inc. of Lamar, S.C., made the pleas in U.S. District Court in Florence, S.C., along with a truck driver for the firm, William L. Watford of Hartsville, S.C. The corporation, which also was charged, also entered a guilty plea.
"Safety is the first priority of the Department of Transportation and the Office of Inspector General," said DOT Inspector General Kenneth M. Mead. "Trucking accidents result in about 5,000 deaths each year, and it is critical that truck drivers are properly licensed and adhere to rules that promote safety."
The charges stemmed from a scheme by the Blackwells, who also reside in Hartsville, to certify that two of the firm's drivers were qualified to drive semi-tractor trailers when they were not. Watford was one of the drivers in question. Charges still are pending against the other driver, Joe H. Eddins Jr.
The violations occurred between February of 1996 and July of 1997, and involved providing false identification and information to DOT and to insurers.
The case was investigated by OIG, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Motor Carriers, and the South Carolina State Transport Police.
"A person unqualified to drive a heavy truck is an accident waiting to happen," Mead said. "Cases like this one serve notice that the undercutting of standards for truckers will not be tolerated."
A sentencing date for the Blackwells, Watford and the company will be set following judicial review of pre-sentence reports. All the defendants face possible terms of up to 5 years and fines of up to $250,000.
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