Agency alleges coast company retirement plan mishandled

Published 5:27 pm Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Labor Department said Monday it had obtained a court order permanently barring a Gulfport company from managing any employee benefit plan governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.

In addition, an independent fiduciary was named to oversee the profit-sharing plan at Struthers Industries Inc. The federal court order gives this independent fiduciary authority to manage the plan’s assets and take any appropriate actions.

The department alleged in a lawsuit filed in January 2006 that Struthers and Jomey B. Ethridge, the bankrupt company’s president, deducted more than $207,400 in employee contributions from payrolls but failed to remit to the plan.

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The suit accuses the company, which designed and built pressure vessels at its Gulfport facility, and Ethridge of violating their fiduciary duties by allowing employee contributions to the plan to be used for purposes other than providing benefits.

It also alleges the defendants failed to segregate employee contributions from assets of the company and failed to ensure that the plan received payroll-deducted contributions.

The alleged violations occurred between November 2002 and March 2003, the lawsuit claims