Prosecutors in Monterey County have filed seven criminal counts against the small construction firm that employed Robert Reagan, the bulldozer operator killed last July while working the massive Soberanes Fire, the costliest wildfire in U.S. history.
Reagan’s death prompted investigations by Cal Fire and state workplace regulators, as well as the state agency that keeps tabs on California’s construction industry. The incident led to a wrongful death lawsuit against the state. And it brought attention to vulnerabilities faced by hundreds of private contractors that help battle California’s wildfires year after year.
The Monterey County District Attorney’s Office is charging Ian Czirban, the owner of Czirban Concrete Construction, with two counts of insurance fraud, two counts of filing a forged document, tax evasion, failure to collect taxes and failure to provide workers’ compensation insurance. Six of the seven charges are felonies.
“We are alleging that he submitted documents to government agencies that contained false or forged information,” said Ed Hazel, Monterey County managing deputy district attorney, in an interview Monday.
Czirban also submitted documents to an insurance carrier that contained false information, according to Hazel.
The most serious offense, the insurance fraud charge, carries a maximum of five years in state prison.
District Attorney Dean Flippo filed the criminal complaint on Friday.
Czirban has not been arrested. Prosecutors have sent him a “notice to appear” for arraignment in Monterey County Superior Court in Salinas on May 11.
Justin Reden, a lawyer who has represented Czirban in the past, has yet to return KQED’s calls for comment. Ian Czirban could not be reached.
Czirban’s lawyers have argued that he was not required to carry workers’ compensation insurance and that Cal Fire, not the company, was responsible for Reagan.
The charges come after state regulators moved to bar the company from working in California. The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) announced in March that the firm violated three state regulations in connection with its work on the fire.
The Soberanes Fire prompted the investigation by the CSLB, which referred the case to the Monterey County DA’s office.
“They let us know that Mr. Czirban potentially did not have workers’ compensation insurance when this incident occurred,” Hazel said. That led to an investigation that revealed more crimes, he said.
Word of the prosecution came the same day that KQED published a story that delved into the dangers private contractors face as Cal Fire and the U.S. Forest Service rely on them to help battle wildfires.
The investigation revealed that some of the people who work in what amounts to a wildfire gig economy regularly face potentially deadly conditions with little or no guarantee of basic protections.
Along with Czirban, a private company that hired a water tender driver seriously injured in the Soberanes Fire also did not have workers’ compensation insurance.