ABINGDON, Va. (WVVA) – A Grundy, Va., coal company, its owner, and one of its foremen, were sentenced yesterday in the United States District Court in Abingdon for conspiring to defraud the United States by committing dust-sampling fraud to avoid the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s health standards designed to protect miners from black lung. United States Attorney Thomas T. Cullen and Assistant Secretary of Labor for the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) David G. Zatezalo announced the sentencings.
Daniel Tucker, 57, of Russell County, Va., the owner of D&H Mining, was sentenced yesterday to three months in federal prison. As part of his guilty plea, Tucker previously paid an $80,000 fine. Also yesterday, D&H Mining was placed on probation for a term of 1-year.
Gerald Ball, 39, of Russell County, a foreman at D&H Mining, was sentenced yesterday for his role in the conspiracy to three years’ probation.
Tucker and Ball both previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit dust-sampling fraud. D&H Mining pleaded guilty to one felony count of conspiracy to defraud the United States for the dust-sampling fraud and a misdemeanor violation of the Mine Act for willfully allowing miners to conduct roof-bolting in return air in violation of the mine’s MSHA-approved ventilation plan.
“As this case illustrates, the Department of Justice is committed to protecting our nation’s coal miners,” U.S. Attorney Cullen stated today. “We will continue to investigate and prosecute unscrupulous owners and operators who jeopardize miners’ wellbeing by cutting corners and putting profits ahead of safety.”
“Enforcing the mandatory dust standards is a top priority for the Mine Safety and Health Administration,” said MSHA Assistant Secretary David G. Zatezalo. “These standards are important in reducing black lung disease in this country and they provide an effective framework to hold operators accountable when they are violated. The Department of Justice has done great work in enforcing these crucial standards and protecting miners.”
As part of its investigation, MSHA inspectors discovered irregularities in the record keeping of mandated dust sampling. Upon further investigation, MSHA determined that Tucker and Ball had conducted an organized effort to avoid accurate dust sampling in an attempt to avoid MSHA health violations and avoid requirements to reduce the respirable coal dust levels. As part of MSHA’s mandatory respirable dust standards, mine operators are mandated to conduct dust-sampling for 15 consecutive shifts every quarter. During the sampling, designated miners are required to wear continuous personal dust monitors for the entire time they are underground. Yet Tucker intentionally programed the dust monitors to shut off after 9 hours despite the miners working 10-hour shifts underground.
Ball, as the underground foreman, checked dust monitors and when one approached the limits of authorized exposure to respirable dust, he would take the monitor off the miner and hang the monitor in fresh air in an attempt to prevent the sampling device from recording the actual levels of dust underground.
The investigation of the case was conducted by the Norton Office of the Mine Safety and Health Administration. Special Assistant United States Attorney Jason Grover from the Department of Labor and Assistant United States Attorneys Lena Busscher and Randy Ramseyer prosecuted the case for the United States.