CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said Wednesday that his office expects to bring more criminal charges related to its Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster investigation, and that action in the probe will come "very shortly."
Goodwin did not provide specifics, but said the investigation remains in a "critical phase" as prosecutors try to move up the corporate ladder among individuals who ran Massey Energy Co.
"We're advancing as quickly as we can in that regard, and I anticipate we will have some future announcements very shortly," Goodwin said.
Goodwin discussed the matter Wednesday afternoon outside the first meeting of a panel appointed to dole out $48 million Alpha Natural Resources provided for mine safety and health research as part of a deal to avoid corporate criminal prosecution for the Upper Big Branch explosion.
In December, Goodwin and his team secured a $209.5 million settlement with Alpha Natural Resources, which acquired the Upper Big Branch Mine when it bought Massey Energy.
Goodwin agreed not to prosecute the company for any Upper Big Branch criminal liabilities, but required Alpha to spend $80 million during the next two years on mine safety improvements and create a $48 million mine safety research trust fund. Alpha also agreed to pay $46.5 million in restitution to families of the disaster victims and $35 million to resolve pending Massey safety fines, including $10.8 million levied for violations related to the Upper Big Branch explosion.
The settlement with Alpha, however, did not prohibit prosecutors from pursuing charges against any individuals -- including Massey officers, employees or agents -- who played a role in the mine disaster.
Federal, state and independent investigations have blamed the worst U.S. coal-mining disaster in nearly 40 years on widespread safety violations, including a systematic failure by Massey management to comply with rules aimed at controlling the buildup underground of explosive coal dust.