|California Coalition for Workers Memorial Day|
The Fungus and Bacteria of Deregulation and Biotech Worker David Bell
By Steve Zeltzer
It was a long road before Sandi Trend, the mother of injured Agraquest worker David Bell, ended up at the little known California Fraud Assessment Commission FAC on September 11, 2007. The commission which is under California Insurance Commissioner, Steve Poizner, is required to provide oversight on the prosecution of workers compensation insurance fraud in California and distributes over $25 million a year to California District Attorneys for this work.
Trend’s son, David Bell, had begun work at the Davis based biotechnology company, Agraquest, in August 1998 and was one semester away from receiving his Bachelor of Science degree from California State University, Sacramento, with a major in biology and a minor in chemistry. He was thrilled to have the opportunity to put his education to work in developing biotech for use in society.
Pamela G. Marrone founded Agraquest in 1995. She had previously worked for Monsanto in the Insect Control Group. Her focus was developing new products in genetically engineered microbial pesticides and transgenic crops for insect control. This new venture capital and agribusiness-backed firm that she launched was able to raise over $50 million.
The company’s first product was an application directed at mosquito control through the use of mosquito larvae. She also became co-founder of the Davis Area Technology Association, was on the board of trustees of the Sutter Hospital Health Central Division and was co-chair of the University of California President's Advisory Commission On Agriculture and Natural Resources. She was the Sacramento Chamber's 2001 Business Woman of the Year and even received a Presidential Green Chemistry Award. Agraquest's commercially successful products include Serenade (QST 713) (Bacillus subtilis bacteria) and Ballad, both widely used in organic agriculture. Some are even sold in Wal-Mart around the country. In fact, she and other Agraquest scientists have bragged in numerous newspaper articles and interviews that the company scoured the world for the discovery of "novel" microorganisms as possible candidates for bio-pesticides, insecticides, fungicides and microcides.
They'll check out new samples of soils, plant and lichens arriving from around the globe, hoping that one eventually will lead to the next breakthrough natural, “environmentally safe pesticide or fungicide.” "It's a pretty long process," said Pamela Marrone, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Davis biopesticide company. "We're doing a lot of interesting things here that are cutting edge. They haven't been done before." "We move very fast. We focus on getting things to the market quickly," Marrone said. “There's this whole microbic world that hasn't been scratched yet," Marrone said. "I wrote the business plan at night and on weekends and then got a management team together," she said. With two other executives, Duane Ewing and Bruce Holm, and three former Entotech scientists, Marrone launched Agraquest in a small East Davis lab, furnished with $35,000 in used furniture and equipment.
Pam Marrone keeps her enemies close. They are in refrigerators and jars all over the company's offices. Natural pesticides exist all over the world. The microbe for root-knot nematodes studied at Agraquest was discovered in an Eastern European creek by scientists once associated with a bio-weapons lab in Siberia. The company's first product, Serenade, was derived from a microorganism found in a peach orchard near Fresno, California, where a farmer had noted that a particular strand of trees was never hit with the dreaded brown rot. The active ingredient in a fungicide called Sonata is a patented strain of Bacillus pumilus, originally found in a garden in Micronesia. Bacillus pumilus is a causative agent of food poisoning.
The US government, the University of California at Davis and massive chemical biotech pesticide industry were all part of a web in this very profitable world of agricultural biotechnology. In all likelihood, this is the very reason that the cover-up at Agraquest has been hidden for so many years. This industry is also one of the most important industries in California, receiving hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer money for research at the University of California at Davis and other campuses. Over 2/3 of the biotech companies are also within the state of California. The development and research on these products is also funded by the US military for warfare. Interestingly, Bacillus subtilis var. niger was also used by the US military in Project SHAD as a biowarfare stimulant.
The potential dangers of these products also raise the issue of why the Federal government has failed to properly supervise, investigate and manage the introduction of genetically engineered products into the workplace and environment.
Dr. Sheldon Krimsky, a professor at Tufts University and co-editor of Why We Need A Genetic Bill of Rights: Right and Liberties inthe Biotech Age, has argued that a lack of regulation and allowing the companies to monitor and regulate themselves is a growing danger and threat to the environment and a threat to all human rights and protections.
This unfortunately was borne out in Bell's case. Despite repeated efforts to get the local, state and Federal government to intervene and seriously investigate this healthcare nightmare, they were either unable or unwilling to investigate what was really happening at this laboratory. It took over a year for Ca/OSHA to investigate the laboratory after Bell filed health and safety complaints and he later learned that the company was in a voluntary scheme with CA OSHA that they had a collaborative relationship in which they agreed to “voluntary” compliance program.
Krimsky himself was under pressure by the chemical industry because of his investigation of the possible dangers of genetic technology to workers and the environment. They made efforts to remove him from his position but these were thwarted.
In the case of the University of California and the Davis campus there is an intimate relationship between the biotech industry and Pam Marrone. The UC Davis campus like the rest of the UC system has been a willing player and collaborator in "protecting" the biotech industry from any serious oversight or scientific investigation. In fact, the industry has made sure that many of the staff of the university involved in research are getting large shares of stocks and financial benefits for their "work" in the industry while they are at the University. The well-known danger of pesticide poisoning of farm workers in California and around the world is obviously not a central area of focus by the UC system since it might threaten Monsanto and other corporate investments and interests. The lack of studies and research on the effect of genetically engineered pesticides and how they affect laboratory workers as well as farm communities and farm workers also gets very little focus. This story is particularly important since one of the most recent farm crisis stories is the deaths in the bee industry for "unknown" reasons. These pollinating bees are crucial for crops such as almonds and many other vital farm products. Could it be that these genetically engineered organic pesticides don't know the difference between bees used to pollinate our crops and other pests in our environment? Will we ever know?
The corporate take-over of education and particularly the role of Monsanto where Marrone is from are covered in a recent article in Alternet.
A Short Work Career
David Bell was 32 when he began his work on August 10, 1998 at the Davis based company as a temporary research assistant in their Davis facility’s formulation laboratory. It was located at 1105 Kennedy Place, Suite 4, an Office Park in a residential neighborhood. During David’s employment with Agraquest, they moved to their second location in an industrial area of Davis. On July 30, 1998 CEO Marrone sent Bell a letter of job offer for the next six months, possibly for one year."
Although he assisted in other areas of the company and helped company scientists with their projects, David’s project was the Laginex project, Agraquest’s trade name for a strain of fungus known as Lagenidium giganteum. Laginex was used as a vector control as it ate mosquitoes from the inside out. David’s job was to find an agent that would extend the shelf life and viability of Laginex.
The United States Patent office had already issued a patent to Agraquet on November 25, 1997 for the "medium for the cultivation of Lagenidium giganteum",(UNITED STATES PATENT # 5,691,191) that was filed by Agraquest on March 15, 1996. Lagenidium giganteum sp. was later found to cause disease in dogs and humans although Bell was told it was safe.
After a workday, only five months and 9 days after beginning employment at Agraquest, David ended up at an emergency medical care clinic in extreme pain with bloody pus draining from his nose and numbness in half of his face and teeth. The next day he was seen by a for profit Sutter Hospital independent physician who told Bell he needed to see another physician at the clinic who was also a Sutter independent physician (Pam Marrone, CEO of Agraquest was also on the board of the regional Sutter Hospital) Sixteen days later, he had the first of what would end up being four sinus surgeries and his body was infected with unknown microorganisms. He was told by the ENT physician that it would take many months for him to fully recover from his sinus surgery. It was much later that David was told by this physician/surgeon, “I guess I forgot to culture it.” Although he had asked repeatedly for this in pre-op in front of 3 witnesses, “I want this cultured, I think I got something from the lab”. This physician told David that in order to file a worker's compensation claim he had to be “absolutely positive” that it was work-related.
Agraquest also violated [Insurance Code Section 11760], Labor Code 5401 which states: Reg 101119 Claim Form provided to employee within one day of knowledge of injury. Alos the California Labor Code 3602 states: Liability exists for any injury sustained by an employee “arising out of and in the course of employment” and during a registration or a re-registration of any pesticide product [biologicals included]. It has to be established that the product will not cause any adverse health or adverse environmental effects. The California Department of Pesticide Regulations (DPR) and the EPA mandates that a product to be used within the state has to clearly show that there are no adverse effects on the environment or human health. If there is, the products registrations or re-registrations will be canceled and full investigations as to the safety of the product will be conducted. (Department of Pesticide Regulations [DPR] Chapter IX) 11 â€¢EPA Regulating Biopesticides FIFRA 6(a)(2)
Nine months after his first surgery, the receptionist told David that, 11 other employees had calledin sick the same week David got sick and she had been instructed to shut and lock the lab door. It is mandated by Federal and State law that any adverse health effects that are suspected or discovered, especially when it comes to pesticides, (biological included) be reported to these agencies by the employer and treating physician for the safety of the environment as well as the public.
It is unknown how many identified and unidentified microorganisms are actually in the lab at any given time as Agraquest searches for “novel” microorganisms and as the above mentioned article states: “They'll check out new samples of soils or plant roots or lichen arriving from across the globe, hoping that one eventually will lead to the next breakthrough natural, environmentally safe pesticide or fungicide”.
Not all microorganisms are safe and Anthrax is just one frightening example. The bacterium, Bacillus anthracis (Anthrax) exists in soil as a spore. Under certain condition, the anthrax spore can remain viable in soil for several decades.
In Agraquest’s filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Agraquest clearly states they use hazardous materials and biologicals, yet their refusal to have proper protection for the employees and community showed that they were worried more about how investors might react than the environment and worker safety that might be at risk.
Again, in 2002, David was facing another sinus surgery (2nd of 4) for repeated infections. David wrote a letter of complaint to Cal/OSHA citing 13 violations by Agraquest, including “daily teatime inside the laboratory with cookies” and “minors from Davis High School present in laboratories”. In an article in the Davis Enterprise published April 28, 2000, reported that a little girl, 8 years old, had been allowed in the lab with her father. The article stated “It was first chance to see her dad working in the lab on a regular business day, though she has dropped in with him on weekends in the past.” “I kind of know how to make more of the bacteria plates,” she said. We put them in a hot thing ... and we made these little glass things, put bacteria on them, and put them in a microscope.” “I saw blue and black things ... they were bacteria, and they were alive.”
“Eventually, the materials will be screened. Some of them eventually might play a role in one of the bio-pesticides that Agraquest markets.” According to the Center for Disease Control Guidance and Information on Microorganisms, no minors should be allowed in a biological research facility and it is a common biosafety rule. Additionally, food should never be consumed inside a biological lab but the employee break room was used to conduct presentations to investors during which time the employees could not use it.
Agraquest received a few citations for "several illegal fume hoods" and a small fine. David later learned of another citation that was issued to Agraquest on July 9, 2003 by Cal/OSHA for an exhaust system that did not provide an average face velocity of at least 100 linear feet per minute with a minimum of 70/Ft/min at any one point. The laboratory-type hoods located in the Formulations Lab, Dirty Plant Path Lab, and one of the laboratory-type hoods in the Chemistry Lab had average face velocities of less than 100 Ft/min and several points that were less than 70 Ft/min. while in operation.
During the week before becoming ill at Agraquest, David was told to retrieve from Agraquest’s offsite farm a barrel containing one gallon of liquid from a prior fermentation run. Labeled on this barrel was Germany and AQ 153. He was told to clean it out with household bleach so it could be used again. He asked if it was safe and was told yes, to dump it in the back storm drain. The drain was a concrete slab that had been hallowed out and was located outside the lab door. "The drain" dumped into the ground across the street next to several apartment buildings.
David also became extremely concerned that Agraquest was bringing in unknown microorganisms in soil from overseas without going through proper regulatory regulations. He had witnessed a green suitcase that was sitting on the lab counter with one huge bag of soil. He overheard employees laughing about how it was brought in on a commercial airliner to avoid customs and quarantine. It is believed it was brought in from South America. David has since called APHIS (United States Department of Agriculture) inquiring whether Agraquest had a soil import permit at that time and was told that they did not.
Under the US Department of Agriculture - Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) rules, soil is strictly controlled under APHIS quarantine regulations 7 CFR 330 because it can readily provide a pathway for the introduction of a variety of dangerous organisms into the United States. Importation of soil into the United States from foreign sources is prohibited and movement within the continental U.S. is restricted unless authorized by APHIS under specific conditions, safeguards and controlled circumstances described in a permit and/or compliance agreement."
This was also reported to Sacramento Republican Congressmen and former California Attorney General Dan Lundgren by Bell’s mother as a “Homeland Security Issue” but apparently Lundgren is not interested in this security issue.
After going to the Mayo Clinic in 2003, David learned he had a histo-yeast in his blood. This fungus causes Histoplasmosis and can cause serious consequences to human health. Although Agraquest has denied any connection to this microorganism, it had been discovered that again, Agraquest scientists were listed as “inventors” on a United States Patent listing this microorganism that has since been reassigned to another company outside of California. It was also discovered that four days after David had first sought emergency medical care, all four of the Agraquest scientists listed on this patent started signing over their interests.
It was during the initial visit to the Mayo Clinic that David researched their medical library and discovered that the bacteria Bacillus subtilis, which he had been told was safe, causes serious health problems. It was at this point that Bell realized the company he had believed in was the cause of his ongoing health problems. He then filed a workers compensation claim. His mother also learned later that he was being exposed to Bacillus subtilis which causes numerous adverse health affects. He had also worked with this bacterium at Agraquest in powder form. Brian Campbell, another worker, who later supported management had also worn a respirator around this material but David had been told it was safe and not to worry about it. As his mother Sandi Trend has said, "It is like a bad Sci-Fi movie and my son is the victim here."
It was also in 2003 that David was told his immune system was jeopardized as well. He had stopped the normal production of B-cells and was given 17 Immunotherapy Injections from an Immunologist before he was told he would have to have IV Immunoglobulin (IVIG) Infusions every 28 days. In 2003, 2004, and 2005 he was hooked up to an IV pump and received IVIG infusions for approximately 8 hours each time. These treatments ranged in cost from $7,000 to $15,000 for each infusion.
Through many years of struggle to try and regain his health, as he once knew it, Bell has shown positive to 19 microorganisms, both bacteria and fungi. These show up in his sputum cultures, blood and IgG levels (showing positive to highly positive), exposure levels that could be traced back to his employment at Agraquest. These bacteria and fungi all show up in United States Patents issued to Agraquest, United States Patents that were issued to other companies with Agraquest scientist’s listed as the inventors on these patents and Agraquest Products that are used on crops and ornamentals. He was and is in serious danger.
Bell was now not only faced with a long battle to not only stay alive but fight an effort by Marrone and other company officials to prevent him from getting healthcare and benefits to help him and his family survive.
As of late 2005, his healthcare costs were over $333,000. Agraquest’s mandated responsibility to provide an employee with his or her civil rights (who became sick while working at the company from a workplace exposure in 1999) was not only ignored but concealed. In a Rico type conspiracy, Agraquest had sought to cover up their financial liability for their own-patented microorganisms in Bell's body. So far they have successfully shifted these costs to a federal agency. Bell also has no doubt that he would not be alive today if he had not been able to get the Federal government to cover these treatments, yet his life is still threatened and he is unable to pay for continued treatment and medical tests.
David's Workers Comp Nightmare
Under California Workers’ Compensation law, an injured worker is entitled to healthcare,however, Bell discovered that not only was the company denying that his illness was work-related but they were seeking to destroy his reputation by accusing him of releasing private company information and threatening company employees.
On January 1, 2000, a temporary restraining order was filed by Brian J. Campbell, an Agraquest employee charging that Bell had threatened him in 1999. At this time, David was no longer employed by Agraquest. He represented himself at the trial. The judge asked Campbell if he felt so threatened, why did it take him so long to file a complaint? David’s employment with Agraquest had ended on 6/1/1999. The attempt to keep David away from any connection to Agraquest or its employees failed and the judge denied Campbell’s request. During this proceeding is when Bell first heard he had been “fired” from Agraquest. He was told when he was let go on 6/1/1999 that “his position was being terminated” and he was given $1441.00 in severance pay. He had no reason to question this as he had been hired for six months to one year and had been at Agraquest for more than nine months. Like many other unorganized biotech workers, he was also forced to sign a privacy agreement that made him liable for releasing proprietary information about the company. These agreements in fact have been used to silence the workers in the industry who might be fearful of speaking out about health and safety problems and discrimination for fear of lawsuits and retaliation. This blanket of silence dominates the industry and Bell is one of the few biotech workers ever to go public.
Bell then made a request in writing to an Agraquest attorney for a copy of his employee file, citing Federal and State law. The request was ignored. It was not until 2004 that he received a copy of his employee file. It was then he saw a memo to “All Agraquesters” saying that David could be a threat to the company and its employees and to be safe, the Davis Police Department would be notified and any contact should be reported directly to Pam Marrone. This tactic of accusing injured workers of making threats to company employees is not new and is a growing technique by employers seeking to eliminate and isolate injured workers so they do not have to take care of their medical needs.
David was eventually forced to move out of his native state with his wife and two children where the battle continues. His daughter often asks, "What was daddy like before he got sick?”
Nurse practitioner, Barbara Clark, was another worker who had injured herself at the 7th Day Adventist hospital chain while delivering a baby in the Adventist's San Bernardino hospital. She was actually served with eight restraining orders by the 7th Day Adventists hospital chain on the day she was about to testify at the Fraud Assessment Commission in Sacramento about the fraud.
Of course David's illness was never reported as required by law and the State and Federal agencies which oversee industry and corporations all rejected his growing effort to get justice on the job and healthcare. David had also reported the health and safety problems to California OSHA but found out that they were not prepared or able to do a serious investigation of a biological research laboratory.
He and his mother have filed complaints with the Yolo County Health Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Attorney General of California, NIOSH, APHIS and CDC. His mother also contacted US Congressman Henry Waxman, Chairman of the Oversight and Reform Committee in the United States House of Representatives because of her fear of mutated microorganisms being used on food crops and ornamentals. The EPA also failed to act when in fact the EPA themselves had found problems in a submission for re-registration on one of Agraquest's products in 1999 and would only give Agraquest a "conditional time-limited" registration, giving Agraquest one to two years to prove the product was safe (the same product her son had been exposed to). This product was still allowed to be used during this time. Many other politicians have been alerted to these issues but they have yet to respond.
In 2002, David filed a complaint with the California Department of Industrial Relations, Division of Safety and Health, about the serious health and safety hazards at Agraquest. His complaint included the fact that no MSDS files were maintained on biological agents, lab clothing was allowed to be cleaned at the homes of employees and that minors, including an eight year old, were allowed to be present in the plant. A Davis High School student was even being used to wash lab glassware. He also reported that cultures were allowed to grow in drawers and cabinets in the laboratory and that the fire doors were blocked.
At some point Bell also began to suggest to the company that it increase its health and safety protections, including government mandated warning signs. He was told he could not order biohazard signs because it “would not look good for the tours.” What he discovered is that despite his efforts to protect the health and safety of himself, the employees and the community, the company did not want to hear what he had to say about these problems.
Under deregulation and cutbacks both with previous governor Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, Cal/OSHA has been virtually been decapitated. Dr. Larry Rose, the only doctor at Cal/OSHA, was not replaced when he retired and there are more Fish and Game inspectors than Cal/OSHA inspectors in California. When Dr. Rose started at Ca/OSHA there were 6 doctors on the staff and now there are none left although California has over 19 million workers.
It also took over one year for Cal/OSHA to even investigate these health and safety complaints and according to former Cal/OSHA Dr. Larry Rose, the industrial hygienists are not trained or prepared to understand the potential dangers in the biotech industry.
With no union protection of nearly all biotechnology industry workers and fear of job losses and lawsuits levied by the companies against workers, many are concerned and fearful as well that they will become targets like David Bell.
A corporate controlled governor and a compliant legislature that voted nearly unanimously for the California Senate Bill 899 now also connected David’s growing health problems to the deregulation of Workers Compensation in 2004. This bill allowed insurance companies to flagrantly deny claims using new subterfuges. One of the reasons that nearly all of the Democratic politicians voted for this bill was the refusal of California AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer, Art Pulaski, and the labor federation to organize opposition. They took a "neutral position" on the bill saying it had some "good" things and some "bad" things. This deregulation bill however, has made it even more difficult for injured workers to get lawyers and also made it increasingly difficult to get medical care, even when going through the many hoops put in the way by the insurance industry and their hand picked "regulators". In fact, at a hearing of the California Commission on Health and Safety and Workers Compensation, Diane Przepiorski of the California Orthopedic Association representing surgeons testified that they might be forced to pull out of treating injured workers due to the inability to get paid properly and in a timely fashion.
David Bell filed a workers compensation claim on October 3, 2003 that stated he had "occupational exposure to human pathogens and allergens leading to sinus surgery and immunodeficiency," but Preferred Employers Insurance Company denied the claim. He also learned that this was not even the correct insurance carrier that was actually responsible for his injuries. Although Agraquest themselves listed this company as their insurance carrier and Agraquest received the denial letter, the company made no attempt to correct the error. During the time he was working at Agraquest, the insurance company had changed and after extended effort and time he finally learned that Golden Eagle Insurance Company had actually been the real insurance carrier. On July 14, 2004, 285 days after he had submitted the claim for his injuries, he finally learned who the insurance company was. Also during this time, Liberty Mutual had bought Golden Eagle and the company was successful in getting a denial of his claim by the California Workers Compensation Board. Under California law, a denial of a Workers Compensation claim must be made within 90 days after filing or it is compensable and cannot be disputed by an employer. However, in David's Bell's case, it took 285 days to be denied by California Workers Compensation and continued on to the Workers Compensation Appeals Board anyway.
The basis for the denial on the Appeals level was based on the judge’s determination that the only credibility came from an Agraquest scientist who not only lied on the stand but also was a founding scientist that started the company in 1995, is listed on several patents and no doubt has stock in the company. The other so-called credible witness was David’s ex co-worker Campbell who is now working with CEO and founder of Agraquest, Pam Marrone, at another company called Marrone Organic Innovations. In fact, Campbell had also worked with Pam Marrone at another company prior to when she started Agraquest. David’s mother who was listed as a witness was denied to take the stand and the Qualified Medical Examiner’s QME conclusions were inadmissible, even after receiving medical charts from David’s physician, which clearly stated he believed David’s medical conditions, was related to his employment at Agraquest.
Surprisingly, after the denial by Worker’s Compensation of any and all benefits to David, it was later discovered by David’s mother Sandi Trend that Workers Compensation Appeals judge Suzanne F. Dugan used to work for the law firm of Laughlin, Falbo, Levy & Moresi LLPU. This same law firm had in fact defended Liberty Mutual insurance company who fought David’s workers compensation claim. The failure of Judge Dugan to recuse herself from this case is another example of a corrupt and rigged system in which the insurance industry and their representatives are in charge of making decisions about what benefits injured workers will receive. Under SB 899 California, unlicensed medical personnel from throughout the US are also making medical determinations for injured workers without even seeing the patients and routinely denying benefits to injured workers. Schwarzenegger also appointed Carrie Nevans to be in charge of the California Division of Workers Compensation, the agency charged with oversight and managing the industry. A former insurance company claims adjuster, Nevans and her “side kick” DWC Medical Director, Ann Searcy, have both pushed such Medical Review Boards. They do this as a way of filibustering claims by injured workers and allowing insurance companies and self-insured employers to put off paying for their injured workers while shifting the costs onto the public. It has led to such a crisis that Nevans is now saying that there needs to be a financial penalty for insurance companies and employers who misuse these review boards.
Massive Cost Shifting Scam
In not only David’s case but for tens of thousands of other injured workers, their claims for medical benefits have been denied and they have been forced to go to SSI, state disability or public city and county hospitals to have their injuries taken care of. The federal government paid almost all of David’s medical bills for. A study is now being done by the California Commission on Health and Safety and Workers Compensation to determine the extent of some of these cost-shifting schemes by the insurance industry under deregulation of Workers Compensation under SB 899.
Taxpayers are now paying out billions of dollars injured workers throughout the country who have received their injuries on the job. Author Daniel Berman who wrote the pace setting primer “Death On The Job” in 1978 by MR Press pointed out that “The denial of the health-destroying effects of poisons used in industry and the concealment of information about their toxic effects from the medical-scientific community and workers have been used for decades by industry-orientated scientists.”
In California as a result of this "deregulation", there has been a 30% to 50% drop in Workers Compensation claims, while the number of claims in the State Disability Insurance Program has increased. Profits of Schwarzenegger’s financial backers, including billionaire insurance mogul, Warren Buffet, who helped set up his kitchen cabinet, have also handsomely benefited. Their profits have increased by billions. Eighteen billion dollars are collected in California for workers compensation but only 50% actually goes to pay for healthcare services and benefits for injured workers. The rest goes to the profits of the insurance industry and the vast apparatus that they have set up as obstacles for workers to get their healthcare.
The reason that Bell’s mother ended up at the Fraud Assessment Commission, the day after her son’s trial at Workers Compensation, was because she was in disbelief as she had seen her son’s confidential medical report which had been prepared by her son’s Qualified Medical Examiner (QME) being read by the ex-coworker Campbell in the seat next to her. She had gone over these records many times and knew exactly what they were. At no time during Campbell’s employment with Agraquest when her son was there, did Campbell have any management position. She had also questioned, after reviewing her son’s subpoenaed employee file, why there were so many documents within this file that came from Campbell himself after her son had already left the company. Had Agraquest and their attorney honored David Bell’s request in 2000 to receive or even view his employee file, it is believed numerous documents would not have been found there.
It was also during the attendance of Bell's mother at the Fraud Assessment Commission meeting that she met an investigator with the Yolo County District Attorney’s office who was interested in the case and requested information. She thought the only solution to what had happened to her son at Agraquest was through the Worker’s Compensation system, as did her son. She believes “the misdeeds of bad employers hide under the umbrella of protection within the Workers Compensation system and the past, present and future employees as well as the public are never made aware of the truth.”
Steve Poizner, the Insurance Commission of California, has met personally with injured workers at his Sacramento office and told them he would investigate fraud by insurance companies. His office has not only taken no action against insurance company fraud but also in the case of injured Lowe’s Hardware store worker, Joseph Dow, actually covered up fraud that was pointed out by his Federal Judge and a California State Agency, the Fair Employment and Housing Commission. Investigators under previous Commissioner, John Garamendi, had actually told injured workers that they only investigated fraud by workers and employers but not insurance companies and self-insured employers such as Kaiser and Safeway.
The commission has in fact, a fundamental conflict of interest. It is loaded with insurance industry executives including its chair, William Zachry, a vice president for Risk Management and Workers Compensation from Safeway Inc. These executives make the decisions about who and how much California District Attorneys get out of the $25 million funds.
At past hearings, injured workers such as Safeway worker, Beverly Schenk, have been prevented from speaking out by the “labor” representative board member Chuck Center and Zachry about fraud in their cases. The Commission’s role has been to do damage control for the industry in order to limit their liability and increase cost shifting.
They have also funded the retaliatory prosecutions of injured workers such as City of Atherton IBT police dispatcher, Anita Blick, who was sent to jail in San Mateo county for 60 days, some spent in solitary confinement, because she did not tell her doctor she was driving to her appointments. This felony fraud conviction was later overturned but the insurance company, Citigroup, and Atherton are still refusing to pay her medical bills and compensation for injuries.
The District Attorney of San Mateo, while prosecuting injured worker Anita Blick by DA Kathryn Alberti for felony fraud, had refused to prosecute Lowe's Hardware for falsifying the paperwork of injured worker Joseph Dow. Both a Federal Judge and another state agency had determined that workers compensation papers had been forged by the employer. California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner had also met personally with Dow and other injured workers and told them he would not allow a cover-up of insurance company fraud yet his own investigators told Dow that there was no fraud in his case. In San Louis Obispo County, the District Attorney Gerald Shea who also is a property developer is also seeking to jail injured CSEA school employee Reginald Fagan. In this case, the DA in San Louis Obispo County actually falsified documents showing that Fagan had received Workers Compensation payments when in fact he had received no payments. The net result of these malicious and retaliatory prosecutions initiated by employers and the insurance industry is to intimidate workers into not filing Workers Compensation claims, thereby boosting industry profits. Of course the taxpayer ends up paying these costs but that is after all cost shifting.
While David Bell's mother, Sandi Trend, did not get an opportunity to speak at the Fraud Assessment Commission FAC, she did get some interest from one of the District Attorney’s investigators Yolo County Fraud Unit Chief Investigator Daniel Stroski that her son's case might have some traction. Time will tell, but the systemic conflicts and corruption of Workers Compensation and the deregulatory actions in biotech as well as many other industries indicate these are dire times not only for injured workers and those in these industries but the public as well. The products have now been distributed not only in the United States but also throughout the world. We can only wonder what the results of this contamination will ultimately bring?
Bell's mother, Sandi Trend, has also written letters to US Congressman and governmental operations chair, Henry Waxman, Chairman of the Oversight and Reform Committee in the United States House of Representatives because of her fear of mutated microorganisms being used on food crops and ornamentals. She also remains concerned about the EPA’s oversights as they relate to the registration of biopesticide products and the fact they are still allowing companies like Agraquest to sell these products while still under review. She has contacted many other politicians about these issues but has received no responses as yet. She also is in contact with Lynn Woolsey's office. Woolsey is subcommittee house chair of the Workplace Protection Committee http://woolsey.house.gov/committeestaskforces.asp. While Waxman and his committee have thousands of hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars investigating athletes taking steroids, apparently Waxman does not have time to look at the crisis for injured workers and the multi-billion dollar cost shifting by the insurance industry to the public.
Trend even attended a town hall meeting of Congressman along with former California Attorney General, Dan Lundgren. Lundgren, who received all of the documents and promised to move on these charges of cost shifting, has refused to get back in touch with Trend about the case and getting healthcare for her son. She and other injured workers advocates are fighting for Congressional hearings in Davis, California where the injured workers and company officials could be put under oath to get the real story of why California's injured workers are not getting the healthcare they deserve.
One of the things that Sandi Trend and other injured workers have discovered is that the mainstream media is not covering these issues. The Sacramento Bee, the San Francisco Chronicle and the Los Angeles Times, as well as the major television channels locally and nationally, have all turned their backs on the struggles and tribulations of injured workers in California. It might have to be connected with the fact that these very same companies are seeking to implement the same attacks on their own workers. Many workers in the media industry face the same attacks that workers in other industries face and real coverage of these issues would certainly implicate their employers. The story continues to go uncovered and is "not a story" from the corporate media in the US today. One video that covered this very issue was Monsanto and Fox's firing of two reporters who were about to expose the role of genetically engineered bovine growth hormone in milk.
YouTube - Fox News Kills Monsanto Milk Story
Injured workers will be rallying on April 27, 2008 in Central Park 4th and C St at Davis, California to commemorate Workers Memorial Day http://www.workersmemorialday.org
This story will not go away.