Wisconsin Attorneys Secure Not Guilty Verdict in Federal Conspiracy Case

Wisconsin Law Journal – Defense attorneys for James Lenz, who was facing up to 10 years in prison for federal conspiracy charges, were able to secure a not guilty verdict last month, following a two-week jury trial.

The case was filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, and Attorney Joseph A. Bugni with Federal Defender Services of Wisconsin Inc., was appointed to the represent Lenz. Bugni then partnered with Rob Rosenberg, president at RCS Legal, a courtroom consultant and technology company.

Bugni said at first it was daunting as he faced a team of federal prosecutors in Wisconsin who had flown from Washington, D.C. Typically Bugni said he recognizes opposing counsel, which can make a difference.

“It’s the devil you know versus the devil you don’t,” Bugni said, during an interview with the Wisconsin Law Journal on Tuesday.

According to Rosenberg and Bugni, several others assisted with the Lenz’s defense, including Bugni’s paralegal, Shavon Caygill, and Rosenberg’s trial consultant, Melissa Van Beck.

Rosenberg and Bugni both credited Caygill and Van Beck, as being instrumental in trial’s positive outcome, they said.

“Melissa had a time intensive, integral role. When she sits in a courtroom, she’s in a pressure cooker at all times, constantly on. It’s like the feeling of 10,000 people staring at you and having to perform. She does it flawlessly and played an integral role to the successful outcome of the trial,” Rosenberg said.

When Van Beck was asked how she played a role in the successful outcome of the trial, she said, delivery.

“We developed tools to help Joe deliver information to the jury in an easy to digest concise manner,” Van Beck said.

Rosenberg also praised the work of Bugni.

“Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to work with some really great lawyers, some of the best in the country. When we got to work with Joe, the first thing I noticed was zeal, passion and enthusiasm. Joe was heavily invested in the outcome of this case,” Rosenberg noted.

Bugni also praised the work of the entire legal team at RCS Legal.

“My trial consultants were really great. I was very fortunate to learn from them,” Bugni said, noting that he was pleasantly surprised to work with Rob and Melissa, gaining invaluable resources.

“In the Federal Defender’s Office, we aren’t used to those types of resources (offered by RCS Legal),” Bugni said.

“You don’t get that technology and the ability to talk through issues with individuals so immersed in the case. Rob and Melissa have a mastery of craft and made everything easier,” Bugni said.

According to a copy of the indictment obtained by the Wisconsin Law Journal, Lenz was the environmental manager at Didion Milling Inc. (DMI) from approximately June 2011 to April 2016. During that time, he began part-time work as an environmental consultant for DMI. His duties as the environmental manager included monitoring DMI’ s compliance with pollution control permit requirements and interacting with third-party environmental auditors and government regulators.

The indictment also noted DMI sold millions of dollars of milled corn ingredients annually to various food and beverage manufacturing companies. DMI milled the ingredients at the Cambria facility and shipped them via interstate carrier to its customers. As a condition of DMI’s certification, a third-party food safety auditor performed an on-site audit at DMI’ s mill each year to determine compliance with certification requirements.

According to court documents obtained by the Wisconsin Law Journal, Lenz, along with other co-defendants, knowingly and intentionally conspired to falsify documents in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371 and 18 U.S.C. § 1001(a)(3).

During Bugni’s opening statement he maintained Lenz’s innocence, while arguing “bad” facts were taken out of context about his client.

Bugni told the story of his client as being a family man, who has been married to the same woman for more than four-decades, and has two children and two grandchildren.

Bugni reminded the jury that while Lenz was responsible for tracking hundreds of pages of data simultaneously, he had no authority over other employees and repeatedly reminded the staff to comply with applicable federal law, often via written email correspondence. Bugni then explained to the jury how Lenz increased efficiency from a stack of papers to electronic data tracking, successfully modernizing an outdated system — effectively revolutionizing how the company did business.

“There is only a conspiracy if you want there to be,” Bugni said during opening statements to the jury. In a slide presented to the jury labeled “Worst Designed Conspiracy … Ever…” Bugni argued his client literally had nothing to gain by engaging in the conduct alleged by federal prosecutors. Assuming his client had done so, Lenz would not have received any financial gain. There would have not been a pay raise, stock incentives, a job promotion, or any bonus.

“If there was a conspiracy, Jim Lenz had no idea,” Bugni said.

During closing arguments, Bugni said he proved his client’s innocence while demonstrating how context matters and how the government was forcing a conspiracy theory that simply did not exist.

Rosenberg praised Bugni’s closing argument.

“Joe gave one the top-five closing arguments I’ve ever seen. You don’t get to say that often and really mean it. Joe had extraordinary knowledge of the case and command of the courtroom. He took facts, told the true story, and molded that into a successful outcome for his client,” Rosenberg said.

In this particular case, the government failed to prove Lenz acted knowingly and willfully, beyond a reasonable doubt. Lenz was found not guilty.

Bugni attributes the success of the case to RCS’ legal strategy and the use of the next generation of technology.

“Rob and Melissa have a unique ability to present things in a clean and persuasive way that cuts out what won’t resonate with the jury,” Bugni said.

“This a whole different level of playing field. My only wish is that I would have experienced it earlier in my career,” he added.

Rosenberg said the secret to his success has been observing what works and what doesn’t work from many other trials.

“I’ve never walked away from a trial where I did not learn something from the opposing side,” Rosenberg noted.

Rosenberg says he helps attorneys by “getting lawyers to get out of their own way. That’s also the key to success,” he added.

Rosenberg also noted he and Van Beck were so pleased with Bugni’s courtroom performance, his firm presented Bugni with a portrait on November 7.

Originally published by Wisconsin Law Journal on November 7, 2023.

By: Steve Schuster, Sschuster@Wislawjournal.Com 

RCS Case News: Jury Acquits Former Didion Milling Environmental Manager

MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) – A federal jury in Madison convicted current and former Didion Milling Inc. officials of workplace safety, environmental, fraud and obstruction of justice charges after the explosion in 2017 that killed five workers and seriously hurt a number of others, this according to the US Office of Public Affairs.

Among those convicted was Didion Milling Vice President of Operations Derrick Clark. Clark was convicted Friday, October 13, of conspiring to falsify documents, making false Clean Air Act compliance certifications and obstructing the investigation done by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) following the explosion.

Shawn Mesner, former Didion Milling Food Safety Superintendent, was convicted of participating in a fraud conspiracy against Didion’s customers and conspiring to obstruct and mislead OSHA for his role in falsifying cleaning records used to track when cleaning to remove combustible corn dust at the mill was done.

“The convictions of Didion Milling senior managers sends a clear message that EPA and our law enforcement partners will investigate and prosecute companies that put profits above the health and safety of their workers,” said Assistant Administrator David M. Uhlmann of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.

The jury also acquitted former Didion Milling environmental manager James Lenz of charges related to falsifying environmental records and conspiring to make false statements and obstruct agency proceedings.

Didion Milling Inc. previously pleaded guilty to federal charges of falsifying the cleaning logs and agreed to pay a criminal fine of $1 million and restitution of $10.25 million to families of the five victims in the explosion.

The company also has agreed to a five-year “organizational probation” and must allow federal inspectors to visit the mill without advance notice up to twice a year. And back in August, Didion agreed to pay the Wisconsin Department of Justice $940,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging multiple regulatory violations at the Cambria plant.

“The tragic loss of life in this case shows the terrible consequences that can result when companies fail to implement required health, safety and environmental measures,” Uhlmann added.

Sentencing hearings for each of the defendants will be scheduled at a later date.

NBC15 News has reached out to Didion for a response to the verdict and will update this story with more information.

Originally published by NBC15 (WMTV Madison) on October 17, 2023.