A Two-Count Information, Filed In U.S. District Court In Salt Lake City Friday Afternoon, Charges Genwal Resources, Inc., The Corporate Owner Of A Coal Mine At Crandall Canyon, With Two Criminal Violations Of Mandatory Health And Safety Standards Under The Federal Mine Safety And Health Act
SALT LAKE CITY – A two-count Information, filed in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City Friday afternoon, charges Genwal Resources, Inc., the corporate owner of a coal mine at Crandall Canyon, with two criminal violations of mandatory health and safety standards under the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act.
The first count of the Information charges Genwal for failing to timely report to the Mining Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) that a significant coal outburst occurred on March 10, 2007, that disrupted regular mining activity for more than one hour and caused the permanent withdrawal of miners from the area. Regulations require mining operators to contact MSHA within 15 minutes once they know that an accident has occurred.
The second count of the Information alleges the company violated a health and safety standard in an area of the mine known as Main West South Barrier by mining in an area that the MSHA-approved roof control plan expressly prohibited. Specifically, the Information alleges that Genwal mined the barrier pillar on or about Aug. 3, 2007, in the No. 1 entry between crosscuts 142-139, in violation of the roof control plan.
A statement in advance of a plea of guilty, signed by the United States Attorney’s Office and the company, was also filed in court with the Information. This document represents a plea agreement in the case which is now subject to judicial review. The company has agreed to plead guilty to both charges in the Information and to pay the maximum fine allowed under the law of $250,000 per count.
In the plea agreement, the company admitted that it had a duty to report the March 10, 2007, accident to MSHA within 15 minutes and willfully did not report the accident once it had occurred. The company also admitted that it was aware of the approved roof control plan amendment that prohibited mining the barrier pillar between crosscuts 142- 139 in the No. 1 entry. The company admitted it willfully mined barrier pillar in the prohibited area.
As a part of the plea agreement, the U.S. Attorney’s Office agreed that it will not bring other charges against Genwal or any of its related companies, individuals, officers or directors in connection with Genwal’s activities at the Crandall Canyon Mine in 2006 and 2007, particularly related to August 2007 accidents and the investigation.
Six miners were trapped inside the Crandall Canyon mine following a catastrophic mine collapse on Aug. 6, 2007. Over the next several days, rescuers worked to reach the trapped miners. Ten days after the rescue attempt started, another massive coal outburst took the lives of three rescuers and injured six others. Rescue efforts at the mine were called off.
Referrals for criminal investigations of the accidents were made to the Department of Justice by the U.S. Senate and Rep. George Miller, then Chairman of the Committee on Education and Labor in the U.S. House of Representatives. The Mine Safety and Health Administration also made a formal referral to the Justice Department asking for a criminal investigation.
“We were asked to review these referrals to determine whether any criminal violations occurred during the mine accidents,” U.S. Attorney David B. Barlow said. “In gathering and evaluating the evidence, our office not only considered all of the potential charges that Congress and MSHA referred, but we also considered many more theories of prosecution beyond those in the referrals.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI began an extensive investigation
involving the review of more than 84,000 documents containing hundreds of thousands
of pages from MSHA and Congress. Although the MSHA and congressional referrals
provided needed information, they were not prepared to specifically determine whether
there was sufficient evidence of a criminal act to convince a jury to convict beyond a
reasonable doubt. Prosecutors and agents conducted interviews, consulted with mining experts, and used other investigative tools to gather significant additional evidence in the case.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office also conducted its own interviews, consulted with mining experts, and used other investigative tools to seek additional material.
“Criminal laws require a very high standard. We must prove that a person knew what the law required and knowingly and willfully violated it. We also must prove every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. After considering the evidence, the law, and the heavy burden of proof we must carry in court, the charges we filed today meet this high standard,” Barlow said.
“We recognize that nothing we can do will ever bring back the miners and rescuers who perished, restore the health of those who were injured during the rescue, or erase the nightmares that still haunt those who were first-hand witnesses to these tragedies. However, it is our hope that these charges, and the maximum penalties that come with them, will remind mining companies everywhere of the importance of obeying safety laws,” Barlow said.
(A copy of U.S. Attorney David B. Barlow’s statement at a press conference today in Salt Lake City is available here.)