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Alpha contractor gets 6 months in jail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- An Alpha Natural Resources contractor was sentenced Thursday to six months in prison after he admitted he lied to federal investigators about training practices at an Alpha mine in McDowell County.

Raymond C. Dawson, 57, of Raysal, was also sentenced to three years probation in connection with a federal probe at Alpha subsidiary Brooks Mining Co.'s Cucumber Mine, an underground operation that Alpha controlled before its June 2011 merger with Massey Energy.

U.S. District Judge Irene Berger sentenced Dawson during a hearing in Beckley, following Dawson's guilty plea in May to one felony charge of making a false statement to investigators from the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.

"Keeping miners safe is and will continue to be a top priority of this office and we will continue to focus our resources on bringing to justice individuals who jeopardize that safety," said U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin.

Dawson had been certified by MSHA to provide certain training to miners at the Cucumber operation. A Brooks Run contractor, Griffith Construction Co., was using Dawson to provide training to its miners.

Dawson admitted that on or about Nov. 3, 2008, he falsely told government investigators that he always gave miners the required training and kept them in training classes for the required amount of time.

As recently as Oct. 18, 2008, Dawson had provided miners with incomplete training courses while meeting with the workers at his home, court records show. Dawson admitted to doing the same thing on at least two other instances during the period from August to October 2008.

In January 2007, a huge roof fall at the Cucumber Mine killed two miners, James David Thomas and Pete Poindexter. MSHA investigators later concluded that the miners died because the company ignored roof control requirements and did not train miners in proper roof control practices.

"Sentencing in this case serves as a sober reminder of the important role training plays in keeping the nation's miners safe and healthy," said Joe Main, assistant secretary of labor for MSHA.

Ted Pile, a media spokesman for Alpha, did not respond to a request for comment about Dawson's sentencing.

During a speech Thursday morning to West Virginia Coal Association members, Alpha senior vice president Mark Schuerger said his company has focused on safety training and practices, especially since its purchase of Massey.

But Schuerger focused his talk to the association's annual symposium on other challenges facing the mining industry, from increased reliance on natural gas to President Obama's "ill-conceived regulations" to tighten air pollution from coal-fired power plants and a mountaintop removal mining "permitorium."

"His promise of change four years ago certainly has come at coal's expense, and continues to," Schuerger said.

In the Dawson case, the law allowed a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Federal sentencing guidelines recommended a range of between 12 and 18 months in jail.

Dawson's defense lawyer asked for a lesser sentence, noting that Dawson is in poor health, and that his doctor has said he could have a fatal heart attack at any time. Also, the defense lawyer argued, Dawson was at the time of his offense concerned about his son's drug problems. The son died five months later from a drug overdose, court records said.

Within the last year, Dawson is the second person connected to Alpha to be sentenced after pleading guilty to criminal mine safety violations. In June 2011, Chad Ferrell of Nettie was sentenced to serve five years of probation, including one year of home confinement. Ferrell worked for Brooks Run's Poplar Ridge No. 1 Deep Mine in Webster County after admitting that he lied about having mine foreman's credentials.

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.


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