On Wednesday, Februay 27, United States Attorney Russell M. Coleman announced a former supervisor and safety official from Armstrong Coal has been charged with conspiracy to defraud an agency of the United States government by what he called “deceit, trickery and dishonest means.” The charges are against a former manager, Glendal “Buddy” Hardison, and relate to results of tests performed on the daily levels for breathable dust at two mines in Kentucky: the Parkway mine in Muhlenberg County and the Kronos mine in Ohio County. Hardison, allegedly met with Ron Ivy, a former safety director at the Kronos mine who was also indicted, and another person in 2013, and ordered them to do whatever they had to do to “make the pumps come in.” This indictment is in addition to the eight previous officials already charged in July 2018.
The indictment stated that Hardison and other tried to deceive federal mine safety regulators as to the daily levels of breathable dust at the mines. The federal grand jury also charged the nine officials with making false statements about the results of the tests that were required to be conducted every 60 days to protect certain “designated occupations.” These occupations were ones that are in the dustiest and most dangerous job assignments in a coal mine, U.S. Attorney Coleman said.
“West Kentucky miners are about action, not just happy talk,” Coleman said. “As we showed today, the United States will continue to aggressively go up the chain to hold accountable those who made calculated business decisions that placed our miners at grave risk.”
The Mine Safety and Health Administration conducted the investigation.
“Miners’ safety and health is our top priority,” said David G. Zatezalo, assistant secretary of MSHA. “If supervisors and safety officials are breaking the law, we’ll do everything we can to ensure that the laws are enforced and miners receive the protections they deserve.”
The charges state that Armstrong officials allegedly removed dust testing devices early in the miners’ shifts and placed the devices in less dusty or “clean air.” Also that during a testing period, officials allegedly replaced miners who ran the most dust-causing machines with miners who were not wearing the dust testing devices, so the company would pass the tests. It also alleged that Armstrong officials fabricated and submitted dust sampling test results on days the mine was shut down or otherwise not in operation and that officials ordered testing devices to be run in “clean air” before and after shifts to skew the test results. It also stated that a mine superintendent allegedly ordered a safety official to take whatever action necessary to ensure the company passed dust sampling tests.
Other charged in the indictment include Charley Barber, former superintendent of Parkway mine; Brian Keith Casebier, former safety director at Parkway mine; Steven Demoss, former assistant safety director at Parkway mine; Billie Hearld, former section foreman at Parkway mine; John Ellis Scott, former employee in the Safety Department at Parkway mine; Dwight Fulkerson, former section foreman who performed dust testing at Parkway mine; and Jeremy Hackney, former section foremen who performed dust testing at Parkway mine.
Armstrong Coal, which is now bankrupt, is designated on the indictment as an unindicted co-conspirator.
The Kronos mine remains in operation under a new name, the Genesis mine, and new ownership, Murray Energy. The Parkway mine is no longer open.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Randy Ream, Corinne Keel and MSHA’s Jason Grover.