OWENSBORO, Ky. – United States Attorney Russell M. Coleman announced that 8 former supervisory and safety officials at Armstrong Coal, formerly of Madisonville, KY, were charged by a Federal Grand Jury today with Conspiracy to Defraud an agency of the United States Government, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), by deceit, trickery and dishonest means of its lawful and legitimate function in enforcing the Mine Safety and Health Act (MSA).
The Indictment charges that the conspirators sought to deceive federal mine safety regulators as to the daily levels of breathable dust at both the Parkway Mine of Muhlenberg County, KY and Kronos Mine of Ohio County, KY. Breathable or “resparable” dust is the primary cause of pneumoconiosis or “Black Lung” in miners. The Federal Grand Jury also charges the eight Armstrong Coal officials with making false statements as to results of tests required to be conducted every 60 days to protect certain ““designated occupations,” that is the dustiest and most dangerous job assignments in a coal mine.
“The health of our miners matters; to Western Kentucky communities and those sworn to protect them” stated U. S. Attorney Russell Coleman “When companies and their senior officials are prepared to disregard the law and put miners at risk, they should also be prepared to face federal prosecutors.”
“Compliance with dust sampling programs is crucial to protecting miners against respiratory illness,” said MSHA Assistant Secretary David G. Zatezalo. “Deliberate disregard for the safety and health regulations that protect workers warrants the most severe penalties allowed under the law.”
The Grand Jury charges that contrary to regulations, Armstrong officials removed dust testing devices early in the miners’ shifts and placed the devices in less dusty or “clean air”; that during a testing period, officials replaced miners who ran the most dust-causing machines with miners who were not wearing the dust testing devices, so that the company would pass the tests; that Armstrong officials fabricated and submitted dust sampling test results on days the mine was shut down or otherwise not in operation; that officials ordered that testing devices be run in “clean air,” before and after shifts, to skew the test results toward passing; that a mine superintendent twice mandated to a safety official to take whatever action necessary to ensure that the company passed dust sampling tests.
Armstrong Coal, now bankrupt, is designated by the Indictment as an unindicted co-conspirator. Those former Armstrong supervisory and safety officials charged include:
- Charley Barber, age 63, of Madisonville, a former Superintendent of Parkway Mine;
- Brian Keith Casebier, age 60, of Earlington, a former Safety Director at Parkway Mine;
- Steven Demoss, age 48, of Nortonville, a former Assistant Safety Director at Parkway Mine;
- Billie Hearld, age 41, of Russellville, a former Section Foreman at Parkway Mine;
- Ron Ivy, age 49, of Manitou, a former Safety Director at Kronos Mine;
- John Ellis Scott, age 61, of South Carrollton, a former employee in the Safety Department at Parkway Mine;
- Dwight Fulkerson, age 40, of Drakesboro, a former Section Foreman who performed dust testing at Parkway Mine; and
- Jeremy Hackney, age 45, of White Plains, also a former Section Foremen who performed dust testing at Parkway Mine.
The Kronos Mine remains in operation under different ownership. The Parkway Mine is no longer open.
The MSA is an Act passed by Congress in 1977, and updated in 2006, to protect miners by preventing the scourges of pneumoconiosis, commonly known as “Black Lung.” MSHA, an agency of the U. S. Department of Labor, is the agency tasked with enforcing the MSA.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Randy Ream and Corinne Keel of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Kentucky and Special Assistant United States Attorneys Mary Sue Taylor and Jason Grover of MSHA. The investigation by the Mine Safety and Health Administration, United States Department of Labor.
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The indictment of a person by a Grand Jury is an accusation only and that person is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.