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Conviction for Employee's Death and Decapitation to Be Expunged, Probation to be Terminated

A Sweetheart Deal for Macy’s

by RUSSELL MOKHIBER

The press release from the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office reads — “Macy’s Pleads in Death of an Employee.”

According to the district attorney, Macy’s Corporate Services, Inc. plead no contest to a misdemeanor charge of corporate criminal liability for the death of an employee in 2009.

The office said that as part of a negotiated settlement, Macy’s will pay a $950,000 fine at a sentencing hearing scheduled for August 15, 2015.

On July 13, 2009, Roy Polanco, 65, was operating a cardboard baling and compactor machine at a Macy’s distribution center in East Los Angeles when he fell into an unguarded opening of the unit.

Polanco was crushed to death and decapitated by the machine’s hydraulic compacting ram.

Balers are used to compact similar types of waste for recycling. The machine had been modified so it would operate without interruption.

Under the terms of the settlement, Macy’s also must conduct an audit of all of the balers and compactors at their stores and distribution facilities in California. And the audit must be approved by the district attorney’s office.

So, that’s according to the district attorney, via the press release.

But take a look at the actual plea agreement.

According to the actual agreement, upon payment of the fine, Macy’s “may return to court, move to terminate probation, and have the conviction expunged.”

That’s not in the press release.

Why not? It’s embarrassing.

A worker is dead and Macy’s gets to expunge a misdemeanor conviction and terminate probation?

And the district attorney agrees “not to oppose either the termination of the probation or the expungement.”

We called up Daniel Wright, the prosecuting attorney who signed the agreement.

Turns out that Wright sought felony convictions of Macy’s ‘based on two willful violations of the California Occupational Safety and Health Act.

On October 15, 2013, Wright went before Judge Michael Pastor for a preliminary hearing on the two felony counts.

And the judge ruled that there was enough evidence to take Macy’s to trial on the two felony counts.

But then came the deal — drop the two felony counts, and let Macy’s plead no contest to a misdemeanor violation of the state’s Corporate Criminal Liability Act.

Macy’s does an audit of its California facilities.

Then Macy’s goes to sentencing in one year — August 11, 2015.

Macy’s pays the fine. And then gets the conviction expunged and the probation terminated.

And Wright agreed to that deal, after seeking two felony convictions?

“It wasn’t my decision,” Wright says. “My supervisors made the decision.”

Did you object?

“No comment,” Wright says.

Here’s the other strange thing about this case.

Usually, when you see a major American corporation being prosecuted in a corporate crime case, a big name law firm will be representing the company.

Not in this case.

Instead, Macy’s was represented by Southwestern Law School professor and former Los Angeles County deputy district attorney Bill Seki.

Seki is listed as co-director of Southwestern’s Trial Advocacy Honors Program.

The other co-director of Southwestern’s Trial Advocacy Honors Program?

Joseph Esposito, the current Assistant District Attorney, the number three person in the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.

Russell Mokhiber edits Corporate Crime Reporter.