A former oil company maintenance manager will avoid jail time after pleading guilty to obstructing a federal investigation into the 2014 death of a worker he supervised in Williston.
U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland sentenced Stephen Reisinger, 51, to 1 ½ years of probation Thursday during a hearing at the federal courthouse in Bismarck.
“I am going to give you a break, sir,” he told a visibly emotional Reisinger. “I am going to let you move on with your life.”
The judge cited Reisinger’s remorse over the situation and his recent employment working as an engineer aboard a dredge in the Boston Harbor of Massachusetts as he announced the sentence. Federal prosecutors had asked that Reisinger be incarcerated for 1 ½ years.
Reisinger was working for Nabors Completion and Production Services Co. in Williston when a welder, 28-year-old Dustin Payne, died following an explosion at the business seven years ago.
Prosecutors say Reisinger deceived the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration during its investigation of Payne’s death.
The explosion occurred as Payne worked on an uncleaned tanker trailer that had carried saltwater, a byproduct of oil production, according to court documents. The fluid also contained hydrocarbons, which remained inside the tank and contributed to the explosion. Payne was struck by a tank hatch that blew off, and he died five days later in a hospital.
OSHA interviewed Reisinger as part of its investigation, and prosecutors say he repeatedly made false statements, including that he was unaware of the hazards associated with saltwater and that he thought it was “just water” in the tanks. They also say he failed to adequately supervise welders and ensure Payne had a meter to test for explosive vapors before welding.
Justice Department Attorney Christopher Costantini told Hovland on Thursday that Reisinger “significantly impeded” the OSHA investigation and that his lies caused the probe to take years. He added that Reisinger “absolutely failed” in his obligation as supervisor to protect Payne.
Reisinger’s attorney, Erin Bolinger, said “there hasn’t been a day that has gone by when Mr. Reisinger hasn’t felt tremendous guilt.”
Reisinger teared up when he recounted to the judge the time he spent in the hospital visiting Payne following the explosion.
“I was with Dustin after the accident,” he said. “I just held his hand.”
Reisinger had worked with Payne for about six months at the time of the explosion and said Payne was “a likable guy” whom “everyone loved.”
He and his attorney indicated that the presence of his former company’s lawyer in the room when OSHA investigators interviewed him affected the truthfulness of his statements, something Hovland acknowledged in announcing Reisinger’s sentence.
“I can understand to some extent that he was a bit intimidated under those circumstances,” the judge said.
Reisinger pleaded guilty in March to the charge of obstructing an official proceeding.
The company he worked for is now known as C&J Well Services, and it pleaded guilty in 2019 to violating a federal safety standard in Payne’s death.
Hovland oversaw that case, ordering a $500,000 fine and $1.6 million in restitution to be paid to Payne’s estate.
Reach Amy R. Sisk at 701-250-8252 or firstname.lastname@example.org.