CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Three former Alpha Natural Resources employees and a former Alpha supplier have agreed to plead guilty and are cooperating in an ongoing investigation into a false billing scheme at the coal giant's operations, said U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin.
Goodwin announced charges had been filed against the three former Alpha employees: Edward Ellis Mullins, 41, of Peytona, Joey R. Phalin, 36, of Crab Orchard, and Nicholas R. Coleman, 29, of Lester.
All were local "sourcing agents" responsible for ordering goods and services for Alpha mining operations along W.Va. 3 in Boone and Raleigh counties.
Charges were also announced against Donald Bryan Steele, 43, of Barboursville. Steele is the owner of M&S Hydraulics, a major Alpha supplier with offices in Barboursville and a rebuild shop in Switzer.
Each has been charged with wire fraud and aiding and abetting. All four have agreed to plead guilty and are cooperating with the ongoing investigation, Goodwin said in a news release.
According to the news release, an investigation revealed that several mine sourcing agents, generally responsible for ordering goods and services for mining operations from Alpha suppliers, participated in an illegal scheme to obtain goods for their own personal benefit.
The investigation further revealed that the sourcing agents, working in conjunction with the suppliers, hid numerous illegal transactions by creating false invoices. The false invoices, prepared by the supplier, were intended to look like legitimate purchases, but were really used to provide cash, gifts and other things of value to the sourcing agents and other Alpha employees, officials said.
"Today's announcement is the first step in an ongoing criminal investigation," Goodwin said. "People who accept bribes or who cheat their employers by approving fake bills are committing fraud, plain and simple, and my office will prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law.