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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Western District of Virginia

Friday, July 14, 2017

Coal Company Pleads Guilty to Providing Advance Notice of MSHA Inspections Pays Over $260,000 in Fines and Penalties

Mill Branch Coal, LLC, Employees Used Texting Devices to Provide Advance Notice

Abingdon, VIRGINIA – A Kingsport, Tennessee, coal company pled guilty this week in the United States District Court in Abingdon to violating the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act by providing advance notice of safety inspections, Acting United States Attorney Rick A. Mountcastle announced.


Mill Branch Coal, LLC, pled guilty and was sentenced earlier this week to one count of providing advance notice of safety inspections.


Pursuant to the plea agreement, Mill Branch Coal, LLC, paid $260,538 to the United States Department of Labor for criminal fines and obligations, and resolution of civil citations, orders, and assessments. In addition, the company was placed on probation for a period of two years.


From January to June 2015, Mill Branch employees at the Dorchester mine in Wise County, Virginia, used an underground texting system to give employees advance notice that United States Mine Safety and Health Administration inspectors were on premises. The employees also gave advance notice when Mill Branch’s internal auditors and inspectors from the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy were on premises.


When evidence of the activity was uncovered in June 2015, both the company and MSHA conducted investigations of the illegal activity by Mill Branch’s employees. The company terminated employees and took remedial action to prevent the activity from occurring in the future.


“MSHA believes that mine inspections should be conducted when mines are operating under actual working conditions. The Agency appreciates Mill Branch’s swift, remedial action to address this problem,” notes Patricia W. Silvey, deputy assistant secretary for MSHA.


The investigation of the case was conducted by the Norton Office of the Mine Safety and Health Administration. Assistant United States Attorney Randy Ramseyer prosecuted the case for the United States.

Updated July 14, 2017