Generally, the state Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training handles the licensing and certification of foremen. But federal citations -- and potentially criminal charges -- can be involved if foremen who used forged certificates sign mine safety reports indicating that they are properly licensed when they really are not.
In Belcher's case, for example, state officials in February 2009 had suspended Belcher's existing license, which allowed him to work as an underground miner, but not a foreman. The state mine safety agency's website indicated his mining license was suspended "pending further action" by an appeals board, but no further action is listed.
One former employee of Massey's Upper Big Branch Mine, Thomas Harrah of Seth, was sentenced to 10 months in jail after he admitted faking a foreman's license and lying to investigators looking into the April 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners at that Raleigh county operation.
Harrah had pleaded guilty to faking the license while he performed key mine safety examinations at Upper Big Branch for nearly two years, between January 2008 and August 2009. Harrah also admitted that he lied to government agents when he suggested that officials from Massey's Performance Coal subsidiary had helped him obtain a forged foreman's certificate.
In June 2011, U.S. District Chief Judge John Preston Bailey in Elkins sentenced Luke W. Pugh of Jane Lew to one year in jail after Pugh admitted to one felony county that alleged he lied about his credentials during six safety examinations at Carter Roag Coal Co.'s Pleasant Hill Mine in Randolph County in June 2007.
In two other recent and similar cases -- one in Northern West Virginia and another in the state's southern coalfields -- mine workers received probation after pleading guilty to faking foreman's credentials.
Bailey sentenced Chad J. Ferrell of Nettie to five years of probation after he admitted lying on nearly 500 occasions about his lack of a foreman's license at Alpha Natural Resources' Poplar Ridge No. 1 Deep Mine in Webster County. U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers sentenced Neil A. Hasen of Alkol to three years of probation after Hasen admitted to lying about his qualifications on more than two dozen occasions at Big River Mining's Broad Run Mine in Mason County.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.