Read the charges here.
CHARLESTON, W.V.a -- A former employee of Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch Mine has been charged with faking a foreman's certificate and with lying to federal investigators who are looking into the April 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners at the operation.
Thomas Harrah, 45, of Seth, is charged with faking a foreman's license when he performed key mine safety examinations at the Upper Big Branch Mine between January 2008 and August 2009.
Prosecutors also allege that Harrah later lied to federal investigators when he suggested that officials from Massey's Performance Coal Co. subsidiary had helped him obtain a forged foreman's certification.
Both charges, made in a two-count information filed in U.S. District Court in Beckley, are felonies. Each could draw a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said Harrah has agreed to enter into a plea agreement. Prosecutors plan to file a request for a plea hearing, Goodwin said.
Harrah is the second person to be charged with lying to federal agents who are continuing what officials say is a wide-ranging inquiry of the mine disaster and safety practices at the Massey operation.
"The charges filed today arise out of our investigation into what led to the tragedy at Upper Big Branch," Goodwin said in a statement. "I want to be clear: There will be real consequences if you falsify records, lie to federal agents or otherwise attempt to obstruct this investigation."
Massey's security director at Upper Big Branch, Hughie Elbert Stover, 59, has pleaded not guilty to charges that he lied to investigators and tried to destroy evidence about company policy regarding warning workers when government inspectors arrive at the mine. Trial is scheduled for April 25.
In the Harrah case, the Gazette reported in December that state Office of Miners Health, Safety and Training officials had alleged that Harrah used a fake foreman's license when he performed at least 228 pre-shift, on-shift and conveyor belt safety examinations at Upper Big Branch over a nearly two-year period, from January 2008 to August 2009.
Harrah had a state license to work as an underground coal miner, but had failed the test required for a foreman's license, state records show. Mine foremen not only supervise other workers, but also perform important safety checks and sign required reports meant to document that any problems discovered are corrected before miners go to work.
State investigators discovered that Harrah was using a foreman's license number that was assigned to another person. Harrah used the license number when he signed in at a required continuing education session held by Massey at its Marfork Coal operations in June 2009. State investigators picked up on the problem when they went through the list of attendees to give them credit for the training, records show.
Harrah was using a certification number that had been assigned to someone else on Aug. 28, 2007, the day before Harrah failed the foreman's test.
By the time he was caught, Harrah had been using the fake license for nearly two years, and had moved on to another Massey operation, the Slip Ridge Cedar Grove Mine, in August 2009, state records show.