BECKLEY, W.Va. -- A former Massey Energy miner charged in the federal investigation of the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster has admitted he made up a license number that he used to illegally perform safety checks at the Raleigh County mine.
Thomas Harrah, 45, of Seth, entered a guilty plea Wednesday, three weeks after he was charged with making a false statement on a mine safety inspection document and lying to FBI and Mine Safety and Health Administration investigators.
Harrah faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each of the two charges when he's sentenced Aug. 11.
The charges centered on allegations that Harrah conducted numerous safety exams at the Upper Big Branch mine in Raleigh County. Harrah no longer worked there when 29 miners were killed in an April 2010 explosion.
Prosecutors say the charges came out of the ongoing criminal investigation into the disaster. Harrah is cooperating with investigators.
A second Massey worker, Upper Big Branch security director Hughie Elbert Stover, has pleaded innocent to charges that he lied to federal investigators and tried to destroy documents sought in the probe.
Federal investigators went after Harrah after state Office of Miners Health, Safety and Training officials discovered that Harrah used a fake foreman's license when he performed at least 228 pre-shift, on-shift and conveyor belt 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 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.