Monday, December 19, 2016

San Diego County is the capital of worker compensation insurance fraud

San Diego Capper Admits $5 Million Kickback Scheme

Sacramento, CA - An investigation into what is being billed as one of the largest workers’ compensation insurance fraud schemes uncovered in the county’ of San Diego's history has swept up medical professionals throughout Southern California and now consequences for Fermin Iglesias, one of the involved cappers.

According to prosecutors, a group of recruiters would entice workers - many of them seasonal workers who lived abroad at times - to file workers’ compensation claims. The alleged recruiters were identified as Fermin Iglesias and Carlos Arguello, who operated Providence Scheduling, Medex Solutions, Prime Holdings International and Meridian Rehab Care, and administrator Miguel Morales.

They would allegedly advertise in the U.S. and Central America via flyers or cards stuck on windshields to contact a call center if a worker has been injured on the job and needs help filing a claim, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Alana Robinson.

The recruiters would then allegedly refer the patients to specific doctors in Southern California, who would in turn prescribe certain medical tests and treatment - such as chiropractic, MRIs, pain management, echo cardiograms and even sleep studies - to companies in return for kickbacks, she said. The bribes were usually $50 to $100 per patient, court records show. The bribes were done without the patients’ knowledge.

The treatment was then billed to various insurance companies, including Liberty Mutual and Hartford.

Chiropractors would be required to fill a monthly quota of referrals or their patient pipeline and bribes would be cut off, authorities said. In one instance, San Diego chiropractor Steven Rigler was warned that he’d fallen $60,000 behind in referrals for procedures and he’d be cut out of the operation unless he wrote the organization a $20,000 to $30,000 check, according to the latest federal indictment.

Rigler has already pleaded guilty, as well as San Diego workers’ compensation attorney Sean O’Keefe.

One of the clinics implicated is Crosby Square Chiropractic, where Rigler worked, which has offices in San Diego, Escondido and Calexico, prosecutors said. Other medical professionals indicted are chiropractors Amir Khan of Orange and David C. Nguyen of Huntington Beach, and pain management Dr. Phong H. Tran of Irvine. Dr. Ronald Grusd of Los Angeles, who was charged federally last year, and was also included in a new state indictment.

And according to the Deferred Prosecution Agreement filed on December 8 in federal court, Fermin Iglesias admitted the allegations of the indictment against him, that he recruited and/or facilitated the recruitment of Workers' Compensation applicants for legal and medical services .He controlled and operated multiple entities, including, Providence Scheduling Inc., Medex Solutions, Inc., Meridian Medical Resources, Inc., d. b. a. Meridian Rehab Care, and Prime Holdings Int. Inc.

Iglesias further admitted that a "purpose of the conspiracy was to fraudulently obtain money from ...insurers by submitting claims for medical goods and services that were secured through an unlawful cross-referral scheme in which defendants supplied patients to doctors and required the doctors to refer those patients to certain providers of ancillary medical goods and services, and the defendants received money from the providers or from health care insurers as part of the scheme, in violation of the doctors' fiduciary duty to their patients, and concealing from insurers and patients the bribes and kickbacks that rendered the claims unpayable under California law."

And Iglesias admitted that "It was a part of the conspiracy that Defendants Iglesias, MedEx, Prime Holdings International, Inc., as well as Carlos Arguello and Miguel Morales, received kickbacks and bribes from providers of diagnostic imaging services, including Dr. Ronald Grusd (charged elsewhere) and others" and that "co-conspirator Dr. Grusd and others, concealed from insurers and patients the material fact that referrals were made because of bribes and kickbacks specifically prohibited by California law".

Iglesias and his coconspirators "further admit that their scheme involved multiple doctors.." and that the "total criminal conduct exceeded $9.5 million in claims to healthcare insurance providers. Iglesias, MedEx, Prime Holdings International, Inc., and Meridian further agree that the gross income derived from this corrupt crossreferral scheme exceeded $5 million."

Charges against Ronald Grusd M.D. are still pending in federal court, case 15-cr-2821-BAS. The trial date was set for January 24, 2017, but was vacated. According to court records, the "discovery produced by the United States to date consists of multiple gigabytes of data, including reports, emails, medical claim files, audio recordings and video recordings." The criminal defendants "retained new counsel, who made his first court appearance on October 11, 2016" and needed more time to prepare.

The California Medical Board reports that the Superior Court has issued an order effective March 14, 2016 that Grusd no longer practice medicine pending the outcome of criminal charges in state court pending against him.

AB 1244 will adversely affect the ability of the medical providers who may have filed liens for the collection of fees from recovering additional funds after January 1. Read More...

Thi Houng Le a/k/a Kristy Le, age 34, of Pascagoula, and Gregory P. Warren, age 52 of Lafayette, Louisiana, Sentenced to Prison for Fraud in Connection with BP Oil Spill

Wednesday, December 14, 2016
Two Individuals Sentenced to Prison for Fraud in Connection with BP Oil Spill

Gulfport, Miss – Thi Houng Le a/k/a Kristy Le, age 34, of Pascagoula, and Gregory P. Warren, age 52 of Lafayette, Louisiana, were sentenced today by Chief U.S. District Judge Louis Guirola for conspiracy to commit identity theft, aggravated identity theft, mail fraud and wire fraud in connection with a lawsuit against BP, announced U.S. Attorney Gregory K. Davis and U.S. Secret Service Special Agent in Charge Craig Caldwell.

Le was sentenced to 84 months in federal prison followed by 3 years of supervised release. She was also ordered to pay a fine in the amount of $25,000.00. Warren was sentenced to 204 months in federal prison followed by 3 years of supervised release. He was also ordered to pay a fine in the amount of $25,000.00. The defendants were convicted by a jury following a four-week trial before Chief U.S. District Judge Louis Guirola in August, 2016.

The defendants in this case carried out a conspiracy to defraud numerous victims from multiple states and the BP Gulf Coast Claims Facility by obtaining names, addresses, dates of birth, and social security numbers from any source available to create “clients” for anticipated litigation as a result of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. The defendants fraudulently submitted names of over 40,000 individuals as plaintiffs in litigation related to the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill, knowing that the individuals had not consented to be represented by the law firm. They also submitted stolen and false social security numbers, dates of birth, addresses, and occupations.

This case was investigated by United States Secret Service and prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jerry Rushing and Gregg Kennedy.

1 oil worker killed and 9 more are missing in Caspian Sea in Azerbaijan after part of their offshore oil platform broke off in strong winds.

1 dead, 9 missing in Azerbaijan offshore oil rig accident

Published December 15, 2016
Associated Press

BAKU, Azerbaijan – One oil worker has been reported killed and nine more are missing in Azerbaijan after part of their offshore oil platform broke off in strong winds.

Oil industry workers' rights activist Mirvari Gahramanli says one body was retrieved from the Caspian Sea during searches following the accident early Thursday morning.

The state oil company, known as SOCAR, reports that a 150-meter (490-foot) section of walkway fell into the sea amid 90 mph (145 kph) winds and says 10 workers are missing. It has not confirmed the death.

The company says five of the victims had been working on the installation and another five were in a cabin that was torn off the structure.

Azerbaijan's Emergencies Ministry has sent two ships to the Caspian Sea platform to search for the workers.


One offshore worker has been killed and nine are missing after an accident offshore Azerbaijan when a part of an oil installation collapsed due to strong winds.

The country’s state-owned oil company Socar said the accident happened in the Caspian Sea on the morning of December 15, 2016. The accident was on the territory of oil gathering station No 3 of Socar’s Azneft Oil & Gas Production Division.

Socar said that 150 meters of the scaffold bridge, located on the right and left sides of the oil gathering station, has fallen as a result of strong wind with speed of 41 m/s, at 5 am on Thursday.

A preliminary report by Socar stated that ten workers were missing, however, the company said later today that one body was retrieved in search and rescue operations while nine are still missing.

The oil company also named the five duty holders and five oilmen missing after the incident. Among the missing are: Zülfüqarov Güloglan, Zülfüqarov Azay, Qurbanov Vidadi, Həsənov Elçin, Hacıəliyev Həsənağa, Qafarov İlham, Əsədov Samir, Bəhrəmov Cavid, Abbasov Ramiz, Rüstəmov Qorxmaz.

Search and rescue operations are ongoing and a special commission was formed to investigate the incident.

According to a statement on Thursday from the office of the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, the search and rescue operation involves a helicopter and ships of the Ministry of Emergency Situations, Socar’s employees, and ships of the Caspian Shipping Company.

This is not the first time for a fatal accident to happen in Azerbaijan’s Caspian Sea. Last December, the country was hit by two separate offshore accident that had fatal consequences for a number of offshore workers.

Furthermore, another incident happened in the Caspian Sea in September this year after an offshore platform caught fire.


Caspian search goes on

Socar and other vessels continue effort to find nine workers missing after high winds cause accident at offshore facility

Kama Mustafayeva from Baku
15 Dec 2016 19:07 GMT Updated 15 Dec 2016 19:47 GMT

Ferocious winds made it “almost impossible to avoid” the accident at a Socar offshore installation in the Caspian Sea that left at least one worker dead and nine others missing, an official at the Azerbaijani state energy company said.

The body of Ilham Gafarov, who was in his late fifties, has been recovered from after a portion of an offshore installation collapsed due to strong winds, field operator Socar said in press briefing on Thursday.

'Fatality' after Caspian accident

According to Socar’s official statement, the fatal accident occurred in the at 5am local time on Thursday when strong winds of up to 41 metres per second blew away a 150-meter-long part of a scaffold bridge and a cabin connected to it.

Five of the 10 oilmen who were swept off the structure were on duty at the oil gathering station, while the other five were sleeping in the cabin, other sources indicated.

"One body was found and a search-and-rescue operation for nine missing workers is under way," Balamirza Agarahimov, a deputy head of Azneft, Socar’s oil and gas production subsidiary, said at a press conference in Baku.

The company had carried out existing protocols for extreme weather alerts, he said. “However, I should say that high wind in 41 metres per second almost made it impossible to prevent an accident,” said Agarahimov.

He said the walkway was built in 1978 and last had maintenance carried out in August this year. According to him, Socar no longer builds or uses such scaffold bridges and long-running ramps as they are “expensive and cost a lot for maintenance,” the company now having a preference for separate platforms for drilling and production.

However, they run for several kilometres in the Caspian in shallow-water fields in up to 20 meters of water depth. The Sangachal-Duvanny fields, where the accident occurred, are located in water depths of 10 to 11 metres.

A state commission was set up to investigate the accident. “Currently we are concentrated on the search operation. However, no one is going to consider the accident as ‘an act of God’ or result of a natural disaster,” he said.

The search and rescue operation involves a helicopter and ships of the ministry in charge of emergencies and the national shipping company, as well as Socar’s own resources. However, due to the bad weather conditions divers could not join in the operation.

Last December there was a deadly fire at the Guneshli 10 platform in what as Azerbaijan’s worst ever oil industry disaster, while there was a separate accident at the Oil Rocks field. Thirty offshore workers were lost between the two incidents.

Also, in 2016 several accidents in Socar’s offshore and onshore installations also claimed several lives.

One worker killed, 30 missing after Azeri oil rig fire: government

32 workers reported dead in Caspian oil rig fire
By Nailia Bagirova | BAKU

At least one worker was killed and 30 others were missing on Saturday after an Azeri oil platform caught fire during high winds in the Caspian Sea on Friday, state energy company SOCAR said.

As hopes of finding survivors faded, SOCAR said a severe storm was hampering rescue efforts at its platform in the Guneshli oil field.

"One body was found and a search-and-rescue operation for 30 missing workers is under way," it said in a statement, adding that 32 workers had been safely evacuated.

Earlier on Saturday, the head of Azerbaijan's Oil Workers' Rights Protection Committee, Mirvari Gakhramanly, told Reuters 32 workers had died and 42 had been rescued overnight.

The fire started after the storm damaged a natural gas pipeline, causing the platform's partial collapse.

A still image from a video footage shows an oil platform on fire in the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan, December 5, 2015. REUTERS/MEYDAN TV via Reuters

Oil production on 28 oil wells linked to the facility was suspended and all oil and gas pipelines, which link the platform with the land, were blocked as a safety precaution, SOCAR added in the joint statement with the emergency ministry and the country's chief prosecutor.

"The fire in the gas pipeline has not been completely extinguished and it has not been ruled out that it could spread to oil and gas wells near the platform," it said.

Azeri President Ilham Aliyev signed a decree to create a special commission to deal with the accident and control the rescue operation. A criminal case was opened to investigate the incident.

About 60 percent of SOCAR's oil production passes through the platform where the fire broke out, meaning the state company's output will be temporarily hit.

The bulk of Azerbaijan's oil is produced elsewhere, however, including on fields operated by British oil major BP.

BP Azerbaijan was not available for comment on Saturday on whether adverse weather in the Caspian or the fire on SOCAR's platform had affected its production.

In a separate incident, SOCAR said on Friday that three workers were missing from another of its offshore oil platforms in the Caspian after an accident during the storm. The workers were still missing as of Saturday.

Fourteen workers were killed in accidents on SOCAR's oil and gas platforms in 2014.

Across Appalachia, coal miners are suffering from the most serious form of the deadly mining disease black lung in numbers more than 10 times what federal regulators report

Advanced Black Lung Cases Surge In Appalachia

Radiologist Brandon Crum and former coal miner Mackie Branham, 39, view an X-ray of Branham's diseased lung at Crum's black lung clinic in Coal Run Village, Ky. Howard Berkes/NPR

Across Appalachia, coal miners are suffering from the most serious form of the deadly mining disease black lung in numbers more than 10 times what federal regulators report, an NPR investigation has found.

The government, through the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, reported 99 cases of "complicated" black lung, or progressive massive fibrosis, throughout the country the last five years.

But NPR obtained data from 11 black lung clinics in Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio, which reported a total of 962 cases so far this decade. The true number is probably even higher, because some clinics had incomplete records and others declined to provide data.

"The actual extent of PMF in U.S. coal miners remains unclear," says the report, which appears in this week's issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Spike In Black Lung Cases Strains Federal Benefits Program

"I can't say that I've heard really anything worse than this in my career," says Robert Cohen, a pulmonologist at the University of Illinois, Chicago who studies and tracks black lung.

"I can't think of anything in this particular field ... that's more frightening than this," Cohen adds.

Edward "Lee" Petsonk of West Virginia University has spent three decades addressing the disease and finds NPR's numbers "very disheartening, very disappointing."

"I've spent much of my career trying to find ways to better protect miners' respiratory health," Petsonk says. "It's almost like I've failed."

NIOSH released a report Thursday, published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, which focuses on a small health clinic in Kentucky with 60 cases alone of PMF in 20 months. The report acknowledges cases are being missed by the government's count; it concludes: "The actual extent of PMF in U.S. coal miners remains unclear."

"The more I talk, the more I get out of breath"

Mackie Branham, 39, of Elkhorn Creek, Ky., spent 19 years mining coal until he was diagnosed with complicated black lung. He ran monstrous mining machines and drilled bolts into mine roofs — occupations NIOSH says can involve excessive mine dust exposure. He worked double shifts and seven-day weeks every chance he had.

His gallbladder was removed one day and he says he was back at work the next. He took two days, he says, after knee surgery, before working a 12-hour shift drilling bolts. But severe breathing problems forced him to leave work in March. And he struggles for every breath now.

"My dad has got it. Everybody that has got it, got it when they had like first stage or so. I'll probably be the first born to be this bad in the family," Branham says, describing a family legacy of black lung.

"They can't breathe but they can still get up and walk around and do stuff. The more I talk, the more I get out of breath. It's like I ain't got no capacity."

The Sidney Coal Co.'s Coal Preparation Plant in Sidney, Ky., in 2006. Brian Tietz/AP

Branham was diagnosed with PMF at United Medical Group, a clinic in Coal Run Village, Ky., that was the subject of the NIOSH study. Radiologist Brandon Crum was alarmed by the numbers of miners coming in with such severe disease, including some like Branham, who were in their 30s and 40s and worked less than 20 years underground. So he contacted NIOSH researchers.

"I think the percentage of black lung that we're seeing now here in central Appalachia is unprecedented in any recorded data that I can find anywhere," Crum says. "In this clinic we're roughly around 9 to 10 percent complicated rate, which is around three times higher than even the highest reported numbers."

NIOSH researchers gathered at the clinic and verified the diagnoses. They, too, were alarmed.

Black Lung Returns To Coal Country

"The current numbers are unprecedented by any historical standard," says NIOSH epidemiologist Scott Laney, who has focused on black lung as well as the recent Ebola outbreak in Africa.

"We had not seen cases of this magnitude ever before in history in central Appalachia."

Crum tells NPR he diagnosed 10 more cases of PMF since Laney and his colleagues left the clinic.

In three years, 644 cases

Life with PMF is bleak. It's incurable and fatal.

Fifty-three-year-old Charles Wayne Stanley of Pound, Va., is matter-of-fact about his future.

"Staying on oxygen 24/7, dying of suffocation, that's what I've got to look forward to," Stanley says, as he sits in a clinic in St. Charles, Va.

"I've seen it too many times. My wife's grandpa ... [I] watched him take his last breath. I watched my uncle die with black lung. You literally suffocate because you can't get enough air. That's my prospects."

Stanley says his diagnosis includes black lung and silicosis.

In just the last three years, 644 cases of complicated black lung were diagnosed at Stone Mountain Health Services, which operates black lung clinics in St. Charles and two other Virginia communities. That's six times the NIOSH national count in nearly half the time.

Ron Carson is the director of the Black Lung Program at Stone Mountain Health Services in St. Charles, Va. "Something major is going on," he says. Howard Berkes/NPR

"I'm not an epidemiologist or a scientist or a doctor," says Ron Carson, who manages the clinics. "I just see the results that come through the doors, and something is going on. Something major is going on."

Laney and his colleagues acknowledge in their paper that they have missed hundreds of cases with their national surveillance program. By law, they can X-ray only working miners and the testing is voluntary. NIOSH data show most miners avoid that testing. Only 17 percent of all working Kentucky miners were tested in the NIOSH program since 2011.

Stanley waited until he was out of work, after 30 years mining coal, before he got his first chest X-ray. Miners avoid the NIOSH testing, he says, because they worry it could cost them their jobs.

"If you're working and you go and have that stuff done and the company finds out about it, they'll find a way to get rid of you," Stanley says. "As long as you're working and producing you're an asset. But now when you get something wrong with you, you become a liability. And they'll find a way to get rid of you."

The last company a miner worked for (for at least a year) is saddled with black lung benefits payments and medical care — even if the miner spent 20 years working somewhere else in excessive dust. It's the last employer who pays.

But it's against the law to punish or fire miners for getting X-rays or being diagnosed with disease. Bruce Watzman of the National Mining Association also says mining companies are not supposed to see the X-rays.

"Those results are not shared with any employer. It's at the miner's discretion the way the program operates today when and if to divulge that information," Watzman says.

Still, the fear is widespread. So missing from the official NIOSH counts in the last 40 years are the working miners avoiding X-rays, and miners who are retired or laid off.

More than 40,000 miners lost their jobs since 2010. Six hundred mines have closed. And those out of work are now flocking to clinics to get screened for the disease and apply for black lung benefits. Last year alone, 3,000 miners showed up at the Stone Mountain clinics.

"I'm seeing miners now feeling that there's no hope. I think that they have really come to the realization that there's other energy out there now that is going to override any coal," Carson says.

With the increased testing, more cases of complicated black lung are being diagnosed.

"Pure rock dust"

Cohen, Laney and other black lung experts believe thinner coal seams in central Appalachia are likely to blame for spikes in complicated black lung. The thickest seams are mostly gone. The thin seams that remain have coal embedded in rock, and that rock contains quartz. Cutting quartz and coal together results in mine dust that includes silica, which is especially toxic in lung tissue. Stanley worked in so much dust he labeled his mining machine the dust dragon.

"They kept getting less coal and more rock. So you're cutting 19 inches of coal, you're cutting 50-60 inches of rock," Stanley recalls. "And the more rock you cut the more dust you're going to eat."

A display case at NIOSH shows a normal lung and a diseased black lung from inhaling coal dust and other harmful particles while coal mining. Howard Berkes/NPR

There's also the practice of slope mining, where crews cut solid rock to reach coal seams. Burnham did that in Kentucky for six straight months, working 14 16-hour shifts at one point.

It was "pure rock dust," he says. "I had my respirators on and you'd actually have to remove it to help take a breath every once in a while because the dust packed so much around your filters you couldn't get no air in."

Protective masks are among the controls that are supposed to prevent inhalation of coal and silica dust. Robust ventilation in mines is supposed to sweep dust away. Water sprays are used to tamp down dust.

Kentucky miner Barney Stanton says those things didn't always work, even when most of the companies he worked for provided proper safety gear.

"It's hard to wear a mask and do a physical job," he says. "Just trying to do your job, you breathe so hard the dust will come in around the mask."

Stanton has been diagnosed with the most serious stage of PMF and is awaiting a lung transplant.

"The mining game is a numbers game," Branham says. "If you don't produce coal, they'll put somebody else in your spot that can. If I've got another man on the other side of the mines, he's cutting more coal than me, it's not going to look good on me. I just thought about my family to be honest with you."

Mining jobs are often the best-paying jobs in central Appalachia, where there generally are few other options for work.

New rules in place, but a decade to see results

New and tougher federal limits on mine dust exposure fully took effect in August, and they get even tougher when there's excessive silica. Simple black lung and PMF can take a decade or longer to develop, so the spike in disease is not an indication that new limits are failing, says Watzman of the National Mining Association. "So I think we're talking about historic exposures and not the exposures we're seeing today."

Watzman's group sued to keep the new dust rules from taking effect, but he acknowledges positive impact.

"I think that miners that are working today are better protected because the silica levels have come down," he says.

Silica dust is down, on average, 50 percent since 2009, according to the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, whose director is Joe Main.

"I think if the rules are followed as they are prescribed we would not have these diseases," Main says, while also posing this question: "Is the strength of the rules that are in place adequate enough to protect miners? I think that's the question of the day."

There are some holes in the new rules when it comes to silica. For example, it can take a week or more to detect silica in dust samples, so excessive exposure isn't quickly addressed. Also, the U.S. Department of Labor has failed to take action on proposed dust rules specifically targeting silica. Every other industry cutting rock has strict limits on silica exposure, except mining.

Main, whose tenure will end with the change in administrations, wouldn't commit to a silica limit.

"I think if the evidence points in that direction then that needs to be done," he says.

A NIOSH black lung surveillance van at the fire station in Wharton, W.Va., in 2012. Howard Berkes/NPR

It'll be a decade or more before the effectiveness of the new rules is known, because it takes that long to detect the disease in lungs. In the meantime, there are the cases NPR has identified. According to year-by-year data reported by NIOSH, our count this decade (962 cases) is more than double the cases NIOSH counted in the last 40 years (441).

NPR also did not receive complete numbers from some clinics and did not get data from eight others in the heart of the region experiencing the spike. So there are very likely many more cases that are uncounted.

That suggests more and more severely diseased miners will be seeking state or federal black lung benefits, which concerns Evan Smith, an attorney at the Appalachian Citizens Law Center in Whitesburg, Ky., which helps miners file for benefits.

"You're just putting more people into the system that need compensation, so the more people we have moving into the system, the more potential burden it places on the taxpayers," Smith says.

There are also younger miners now being diagnosed, so benefits payments and health care may be required longer. There may be more demand for expensive lung transplants.

"The treatments run from a half-million to a million dollars," notes Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., the ranking member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. "So, if there are cases out there that have not been counted then we have a lot of expenses [coming] that we don't expect."

That increased demand comes as the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund is stressed. The fund is nearly $6 billion in debt. It has taken on 1,000 claims that were covered by self-insured mining companies until they went bankrupt. And the coal excise tax that supports the fund is set for a 50 percent cut in two years.

"I think there are real reasons to be concerned about the viability of the trust fund," says Smith.

There is also concern involving possible repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which contains a provision that makes it easier for miners to get black lung benefits.

Scott has asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate the trust fund's ability to continue to pay claims. He also wants more accurate numbers of miners afflicted with progressive massive fibrosis.

"We have to get the numbers straight to make sure they're being properly reported," he says.

Branham wears reflective mining pants in his home in Elkhorn City, Ky. Branham has advanced stage black lung and was forced to quit mining earlier this year. Benny Becker/Ohio Valley ReSource

In Kentucky, Mackie Branham has more immediate concerns. He heard this week he'll be getting state black lung benefits soon. He is hoping the first check arrives before Christmas so he can buy presents for his five children.

He is also left gasping for air and grasping for words. He worked hard to feed his family and now, as his life leaves him one breath at a time, he wonders about the cost.

Branham has "never been scared of death," he says, as he chokes back tears. "It don't bother me a bit. It's just not seeing my kids grow up. But if I had it to do over I would do it again, if that's what it took to provide for my family as long as I have."

Branham hopes for a lung transplant, which may give him five to 10 more years of life.

Joseph Ward, 67, died after falling into a paint tank at Red Spot in Evansville, IN


The IOSHA office is looking into the death of a Newburgh man on the job.

Joseph Ward, 67, died after falling into a paint tank at Red Spot in Evansville where he had been an employee for 40 years.

On Thursday, the county coroner started an investigation into what killed Joseph Ward. The state is now getting involved.

The Indiana Office of Occupational Health and Safety Administration has opened a safety investigation.

This means is they'll be looking for whether Red Spot violated any safety violations that might have caused Ward to fall into a paint tank.

These can take anywhere from several weeks to several months. OSHA has six months to complete its investigation.

The Vanderburgh County Coroner's Office is calling it an accident.

Red Spot is taking this as a heavy blow to their morale.

The County Coroner has requested that a toxicology test is conducted on Ward. Those results should be back in a few weeks.


Man killed in paint tank identified Wednesday, December 14th 2016, 1:23 pm EST

Posted by Kenny Douglass, Digital Content Producer


The man who died after an incident at Red Spot Paint has been identified.

According to the coroner's office, 67-year-old Joseph Ward, of Newburgh, was pronounced dead at the scene.

Dan Grimm with the fire department tells us Ward fell into a paint tank before 11 a.m. Wednesday.

An anonymous employee told us Ward was beloved and worked for the company for years.

An autopsy is scheduled for 11 a.m. Thursday to determine a cause of death.

According to their website, Red Spot produces high-performance coatings, mainly for the automotive market.