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article imageCriminal probe being conducted over W.Va. coal-mine disaster

By Lynn Herrmann     May 1, 2010 in Crime
The US Justice Department has begun conducting a criminal investigation of last month’s explosion that killed 29 miners at the Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia.
Massey Energy Company, owner of the coal mine in question, is facing a criminal investigation by the FBI. News of the investigation, which is at least a week old, was released on Friday. The news caused company stock prices to drop 11 percent. Its stock has plummeted 33 percent since the explosion.
Law enforcement sources, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said on Friday that almost two dozen current and former employees of Massey have been involved in interviews with the FBI.
Cited for numerous safety violations related to ventilation problems leading up to the April 5 disaster, the company says it has no knowledge of any criminal wrongdoing.
According to a report in Reuters, the energy company released a statement stating "We are aware that investigators are interviewing witnesses, but are not aware of the nature of their investigation." the company statement added: "We intend to cooperate in all phases of the accident investigation."
Also under investigation for potential bribery charges, according to NPR, is the Mine Safety and Health Administration. At least one US official with the Obama administration, also speaking on the condition of anonymity, has denied that report.
Although Massey Energy has denied any negligence, Joseph Main, head of the MSHA, recently told Senate lawmakers the company had a “catch me if you can” attitude toward mine safety.
In a recent news conference, Massey board director Bobby Inman suggested labor unions were spreading a “big lie” regarding the company’s bottom line versus worker safety.
"Where did this big lie come from?" he asked. "It was first mentioned by a plaintiff's lawyer, then the president of the (labor federation) AFL-CIO, then the head of the UMWA (United Mine Workers of America) and even the president of the United States."
UMWA spokesman Phil Smith told Reuters: “"The big truth is that 52 people have been killed on Massey property since 2000. No other coal company has had even half that"
Officials with the FBI and Justice Department have declined comment.
The company is also facing a class-action lawsuit filed by the law firm Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP which represents Massey shareholders. The suit charges Massey, along with company officers and directors, with violations of the Securities Exchange Act.
More about Criminal investigation, Coal mine disaster, West Virginia
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