Trucking Company Owners Charged with Falsifying Required Driver Rest Period Records and Concealing Driver's Positive Drug Test
NEWARK - A Mays Landing couple who own and operate a trucking business surrendered to federal authorities today on charges that they conspired to falsify trucker logbooks to conceal that drivers exceeded the maximum allowable number of daily driving hours, U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie announced.
The Indictment unsealed with the defendants' appearances in federal court, describes a scheme in which Gerald W. Diffenderfer, 44, Rose Marie Diffenderfer, 47, and their son Damon D. Diffenderfer, 29, conspired with each other and others to make and file false Driver's Daily Logbooks to defeat the enforcement of the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) "Hours of Service" regulations. The regulations are designed to protect the driving public from fatigued truck drivers.
"These defendants put self-interest ahead of the safety and well-being of the driving public who have the right to expect that truck drivers are well rested, sober and operating their vehicles within the law," said Christie.
Both Gerald and Rose Marie Diffenderfer had initial appearances before U.S. Magistrate Ann Marie Donio at the U.S. Federal Courthouse in Camden. Both defendants were release on $50,000 unsecured bonds with the restrictions that their travel be limited to New Jersey and that Gerald Diffenderfer turn over 40 rifles to a non-relative custodian. Damon Diffenderfer did not have an initial appearance today as he is currently serving a state prison sentence.
The DOT's Office of Inspector General began investigating the company's practices after Damon Diffenderfer was involved in a fatal vehicle crash on April 1, 2001, on the New Jersey Turnpike near Exit 13.
According to the Indictment, Gerald and Rose Marie Diffenderfer owned and operated G.W.D. Trucking Company, which transported goods in interstate commerce using commercial motor vehicles, including tractor-trailers (trucks). Their son Damon was a truck driver for the company. The company paid its drivers based on the number of loads picked up and delivered for the company's customers, according to the Indictment.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), a division of the USDOT, administers and enforces the Motor Carrier Safety Act of 1984 (ACT), which regulates truck drivers to ensure they operate their vehicles in a safe and unimpaired manner, including impairment caused by illegal substance use and fatigue.
The USDOT requires truck drivers to keep an accurate record of duty status (Driver's Daily Log) that reports the driver's activities for each 24 hour period. The driver must record his or her status as "driving;" "on duty/not driving;" "off-duty" or "sleeper berth." The driver must also identify the location and time of each status change, complete the log in their own handwriting, and certify the Driver's Daily Log as accurate by signing the log.
The USDOT's "Hours of Service" regulation mandates maximum driving and minimum resting periods. Under the "10-hour" rule, a driver who accumulates 10 hours in driving status can not drive again until he or she has accumulated eight consecutive hours in "off duty" or "sleeper berth" status. Under the "15 hour" rule, a driver who accumulates 10 hours in "driving" status can work an additional five hours in an "on duty/not driving" status. However, the driver can not drive again until the driver accumulates eight consecutive hours in "off duty" or "sleeper berth" status.
USDOT regulations also prohibit truck drivers from using illegal substances and requires trucking companies to randomly test their drivers. The companies are required to retain negative test results for one year and positive test results for 5 years.
Count One of the 17-count Indictment charges all three defendants with conspiracy to make, use and cover up false Driver's Daily Logs. The Indictment alleges that between October 2000 and May 2001, after learning of a pending FMCSA investigation, Gerald and Rose Marie Diffenderfer advised and assisted G.W.D. truck drivers in concealing and destroying the drivers' original Driver's Daily Logs. The husband and wife encouraged and assisted company truck drivers to complete new logs, which falsely indicated the G.W.D. drivers were in compliance with the Hours of Service regulations, according to the Indictment.
Counts Two through 10 charge that between April 2000 and March 2001, Gerald Diffenderfer made false statements or entries on his Driver's Daily Log. Counts 11 through 16 charge that from March 4, 2001 through March 19, 2001, Damon Diffenderfer willfully made false entries to his Driver's Daily Log which wrongfully claimed that he was taking the required rest time, when in fact he was driving. Count 17 charges Rose Marie Diffenderfer with false statements or entries for willfully concealing and covering up a positive drug test result for one the company's truck drivers.
Each count of the Indictment carries a maximum statutory penalty of 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
Despite Indictment, every defendant is presumed innocent, unless and until found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, following a trial at which the defendant has all of the trial rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and federal law.
Christie credited Special Agents of the DOT's Office of Inspector General, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Ned Schwartz, which conducted the investigation with the assistance of the FMCSA, the New Jersey State Police and the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office.
The Government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Moscato of the U.S. Attorney's Criminal Division in Newark. Assistant U.S. Attorney Ronald Chillemi represented the Government for the purposes of today's initial appearances.
Gerald W. Diffenderfer - Robert Herman, Esq. Linwood
Rose Marie Diffenderfer - Robert Herman, Esq. Linwood