The first guilty plea has been entered in the federal criminal case that was launched after last year’s Upper Big Branch mine disaster in West Virginia.
Former Massey Energy foreman Thomas Harrah’s plea agreement includes the admission that he faked his foreman’s credentials while working at Upper Big Branch, then lied to federal agents about it.
Harrah left Upper Big Branch seven months before the April 2010 explosion that killed 29 Massey mine workers. But U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin says the charges are “directed at preventing a similar tragedy from happening again.”
Mine foremen are responsible for conducting safety inspections before and during production shifts underground that are supposed to catch problems that could put lives at risk. Harrah failed the examination that would have certified him as a properly trained foreman.
In the plea agreement, Harrah admits to falsely blaming an unnamed official from Massey Energy for helping to fake his foreman’s certification.
“He left [Massey Energy] before we could terminate his employment, which we intended to do,” says Shane Harvey, the company’s vice president and general counsel. “We have no tolerance for such behavior and are thankful that no one was hurt as a result of Mr. Harrah’s conduct.”
Harrah faces as much as ten years in prison when he is sentenced August 11.
Investigators have also accused a security officer from Upper Big Branch of lying to federal investigators and attempting to hide evidence. The man has pleaded not guilty.