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Man pleads guilty to false safety checks

A man who falsified pre-shift and on-shift examinations at the Sago Mine in Upshur County in 2004 pleaded guilty to one count of a 116-count indictment Wednesday.

Robert Dennison, 35, of Wallace faces up to five years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000 and three years of supervised release when sentenced at month’s end by U.S. District Judge Robert Maxwell in Elkins.

The Sago Mine, no longer owned by Anker West Virginia Mining, was the site of a January mining disaster in which 12 coal miners died and one survived. Federal authorities have said there is no apparent connection between Dennison’s work and the January deaths at the mine.

From May 2004 until August 2004, Dennison regularly made written statements that he had conducted pre-shift and on-shift examinations of the Sago Mine “when, in fact, [Dennison] knew that he was not certified to make such an examination,” his plea agreement with federal prosecutors stated.

When Dennison was hired by the company that owned the mine, Anker West Virginia Mining Co., he told the firm he had up-to-date mine rescue training, had received his underground miner’s certificate in 1996 and his foreman’s certificate in 1999, the government said in the initial indictment on Feb. 21. He showed the company his mine certification card, but not his foreman’s card.

The state Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training records show Dennison has never been certified as a mine foreman and had never been certified as an underground miner. His only certification had been as a surface truck driver.

Officials with Anker were cited by state mine inspectors when they could not produce either certification card for Dennison during an August 2004 inspection. “Evidence, conversation and research reveals that Robert L. Dennison is not a certified miner in West Virginia,” a state inspector wrote.

The company then fired Dennison on Aug. 22, 2004.

State officials have said all the company had to do was call their office to find out if Dennison was qualified, but no one checked.

Dennison regularly inspected the Sago Mine’s main sections, belts and track section, construction area and the number one section using another man’s foreman certification number, the indictment alleged. Federal officials made note that the mine foreman holding that certification number did not know Dennison.

Most of the 116-count indictment listed each inspection Denison entered in ledgers, claiming he was certified to conduct them. In the plea agreement, federal prosecutors allowed him to enter a guilty plea to falsifying the record for one of those days.

To contact staff writer Tom Searls, use e-mail or call 348-5192.


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