A Municipal Court judge yesterday fined the operator of a Camden cocoa plant, where a man died earlier this month, for failure to obtain a mercantile license.

The city fined Lyons & Sons $1,151.85 - a figure based on the total of the application fees for each year the building was unlicensed since 2002.

Inside the courtroom, Lyons & Sons president Michael Dougherty acknowledged the company had been operating without the license.

"Quite frankly, how we are here is what I would characterize as an administrative misunderstanding," said Morris Smith, the company's attorney.

Lyons & Sons has maintained that it did not think it needed a mercantile license to operate because it did not sell any products at the plant.

"We had hoped the city would consider dropping the complaint," Smith said.

Smith said the company viewed the tragedy that took place at the plant as separate from the court appearance yesterday.

"Mr. Dougherty is deeply saddened by what happened," he said.

About 10:30 a.m. on July 8, Vincent Smith II was tossing blocks of raw cocoa into an eight-foot tank that mixed and melted it for use in Hershey's chocolate candy. He fell into the tank from a platform above it and died after being struck by one of the paddles stirring the melted cocoa.

Smith was a temporary worker at a subsidiary cocoa-processing operation run out of a Lyons & Sons cocoa-bean warehouse on 36th Street.

The company has said it reached out to Smith's aunt and paid for his funeral.

"There's no intent to try to operate illegally or operate without regulations," said company spokesman Kevin Feeley. Lyons & Sons is working to resolve a permit issue on the property with the state.

Though city code-enforcement officials initially said they could not find a certificate of occupancy or mercantile license for the property, two weeks ago the company produced a certificate from 2001, when the processing plant was added to the warehouse.

"It's an administrative chapter that needs to be closed," Morris Smith said.

The city also found code violations at the property. Feeley said the warehouse had reopened after fire and electrical problems were corrected.

The processing plant remains closed because the melted cocoa Smith fell into has yet to be removed from the tank with assistance from the Food and Drug Administration.