Attorney General James Announces Sentencing Of Cortland County Farmer Following Death Of 14-Year-Old Employee

CORTLAND COUNTY – Attorney General Letitia James today announced the sentencing of Luke Park, owner of the Park Family Farm, for child labor violations related to the death of a 14-year-old boy in July 2015. Park was sentenced today in Cortland County Court before Justice Julie A. Campbell to 60 days in jail, 3 years of probation, and restitution of $10,500, after his convictions for Endangering the Welfare of a Child, Willful Failure to Pay a Contribution to the Unemployment Insurance Fund, and the Prohibited Employment of a Minor.

“It is unconscionable that any individual would knowingly put a child in harm’s way,” said Attorney General Letitia James. “This incident is a tragic reminder that child labor laws exist for a reason. My office will continue to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law employers who unlawfully put children in danger.”

The Attorney General indicted Park in November 2016, stemming from the July 2015 incident at the Park Family Farm, located at 3036 East River Road in Homer, New York. On September 20, 2018, Park pled guilty to the above three charges.  During his plea allocution, Park admitted that Alex Smith, a 14-year-old boy, was killed while working on Park’s dairy farm. The boy was operating a New Holland LS170 Skidloader with a hydraulic lift and fork attachment, which is explicitly prohibited by child labor laws, in an attempt to prepare bales of hay for cow feed. Park admitted that he found the boy’s body pinned underneath the hydraulic lift and bale of hay, with the engine of the Skidloader still running. The medical examiner’s autopsy concluded that the boy’s chest and abdomen were crushed, resulting in his death by mechanical asphyxiation.

Park, who paid the majority of his employees off-the-books, underpaid required employer contributions to the State’s unemployment insurance fund in the amount of $10,500.

New York’s Child Labor Law sets forth some of the strictest guidelines in the country on the employment of minors. The law sets forth safety guidelines with certain absolute prohibitions, including the operation of hydraulic lift machinery. The law also seeks to ensure that burdensome working hours do not interfere with a child’s education. For example, minors that are 16- and 17-years old are limited to working no more than 28 hours in any week when school is in session, and 48 hours per week when on vacation or over the summer. The law also requires that minors obtain an employment certificate (working papers) in order to be employed. There are exceptions for jobs such as babysitting and newspaper carriers.

The case was investigated by Attorney General Investigators Andrea Buttenschon, Mark Rudd, and Deputy Chief Investigator Jonathan Wood. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant Attorneys General Mark Sweeney, Peter DeLucia, and James Shoemaker of the Binghamton Regional Office, with the assistance of Labor Bureau Criminal Section Chief Richard Balletta and Assistant Attorney General Jeremy Pfetsch. The interim appeal of the indictment by the defendant was litigated by Assistant Attorney General Matthew B. Keller and Nikki Kowalski, Chief of Criminal Appeals & Federal Habeas Corpus. Stephanie Swenton, Criminal Enforcement and Financial Crimes Bureau Chief, and Gary Brown, Acting Executive Deputy Attorney General for Regional Affairs, oversaw the prosecution. The case is being supervised by ReNika Moore, Labor Bureau Chief, Matthew Colangelo, and Jennifer Levy, the Chief Deputy Attorney General for Social Justice.