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U.S. Labor Department fines magazine company connection with fatal van crash


By Gazette Xtra

MADISON--The magazine subscription company that employed seven young people killed in a van crash last spring faces a $15,050 fine for child labor violations involving a survivor who was paralyzed.

The U.S Labor Department announced the fine Tuesday against Subscriptions Plus.

Still pending is a state agency's recommendation for more than $200,000 in fines against the company as a result of the crash on Interstate 90 near Janesville March 25, 1999.

Fifteen-year-old Monica Forgues of Madison, employed as one of the cross-country magazine sellers, was paralyzed in the accident, which happened just after midnight.

"This young woman should not, by law, have been in that van at that hour," said U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman in a statement. "One of the department's priorities is to ensure that when youth work, they do so safely and legally."

Department investigators said they also found a 14-year-old working for Subscriptions Plus under similar circumstances with another crew.

Seven people were killed and five seriously injured in the van crash. The van carried 14 young people selling magazine subscriptions door to door.

Police said Jeremy Holmes of Clinton, Iowa, did not have a valid driver's license in Wisconsin and panicked when he saw a police officer about to pull him over for speeding. He tried to switch places with a passenger and lost control of the van, according to a criminal complaint.

Twelve people were thrown out of the van as it rolled across the interstate. Officials said none of the passengers, who ranged in age from 15 to 25, were wearing seat belts. Holmes pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide and was sentenced to seven years in prison.

Fourteen- and 15-year-olds are prohibited from working later than 7 p.m. during the school year or later than 9 p.m. in the summer under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The $15,050 fine against Subscriptions Plus was imposed by the U.S. Labor Department's Wage and Hour Division, which enforces child labor provisions of the act.

The maximum legal penalty is $10,000 for a violation that contributes to the serious injury of a teen-age worker. The remaining $5,050 in fines were for hours and record-keeping violations by the company, the department said.

The owner of Subscriptions Plus agreed earlier in July to pay the Oklahoma Department of Labor the maximum civil penalty of $10,000 to settle a workers' compensation claim.

The company's owner, Karleen Hillery, was not required to admit liability, but she agreed to stop doing business in Oklahoma by Aug. 1, officials said.

The company worked in conjunction with Dewitt, Iowa-based YES, which hired young people to crisscross the country selling magazine subscriptions that were then processed by Subscriptions Plus, which is now based in Rock Island, Ill, state Justice Department officials said.

Company officials could not be reached Tuesday because the phone number had been disconnected in Oklahoma City and no telephone number was listed for the company in Rock Island.

The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development referred 92 labor violations against YES to the state Department of Justice in July. The department said the company should be fined $29,051 for operating without worker's compensation insurance and $184,600 to cover claims filed with the state Uninsured Employers Fund, department spokeswoman Rachel Bittner said.

The department passed the referrals on to the state Justice Department, which is investigating both companies and could sue YES to recover the fines.

"Our investigation goes beyond just potential labor law violations. It is looking at whether any civil or criminal laws have been violated by the companies or by managers of the companies, and it's in the final stages but it is not finished," said Justice Department spokesman Jim Haney.

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