If convicted, Belcher could have faced up to five years in prison and a $250,000 for each of the four felony counts.
As part of a "stipulation of facts" filed with Belcher's plea agreement, Belcher agreed that he had also faked foreman's certificates while working at the Frasure Creek, Pay Car and Double Bonus operations, as alleged in the original indictment.
"Mr. Belcher has never held a foreman or assistant foreman's certification," the stipulation says. "He knew he was not qualified to certify that pre-shift and on-shift examinations had been completed at any of these mines."
In West Virginia, the state requires training and certification for underground and surface mine workers. Mine foremen must take separate training and obtain a separate license. Mine foremen not only supervise other workers, they also perform important safety checks and sign required reports meant to document that any problems discovered are corrected before miners go to work.
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.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.