The number of coal company officials charged in a case involving defrauding regulators about black lung disease has risen to nine, according to a recent announcement from the U.S. Department of Labor.
U.S. Attorney Russell M. Coleman said Glendal “Buddy” Hardison, the former manager of all Armstrong Coal mines in western Kentucky, is the latest official from the now-bankrupt company to be charged by a federal grand jury for conspiracy to defraud an agency of the United States government by deceit, trickery, and dishonest means.
The indictment charges that Hardison and the conspirators sought to deceive federal mine safety regulators as to the daily levels of breathable dust at both the Parkway Mine of Muhlenberg County, Kentucky and Kronos Mine of Ohio County, Kentucky.
Breathable or “respirable” dust is the primary cause of pneumoconiosis or “Black Lung” in miners. The federal grand jury also charges the nine Armstrong Coal officials with making false statements as to results of tests required to be conducted every 60 days to protect certain “designated occupations,” that is the dustiest and most dangerous job assignments in a coal mine.
The grand jury charges that Hardison allegedly met with co-defendant Ron Ivy and an unindicted co-conspirator in 2013, and ordered them to do whatever they had to do to “make the pumps come in.”
Going "up the chain"
“West Kentucky miners are about action, not just happy talk,” stated U.S. Attorney Russell Coleman. “As we showed today, the United States will continue to aggressively go up the chain to hold accountable those who made calculated business decisions that placed our miners at grave risk.”
“Miners’ safety and health is our top priority,” said David G. Zatezalo, Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), which conducted the investigation that led to the charges. “If supervisors and safety officials are breaking the law, we’ll do everything we can to ensure that the laws are enforced and miners receive the protections they deserve.”
The grand jury charges that contrary to regulations, Armstrong officials removed dust testing devices early in the miners’ shifts and placed the devices in less dusty or “clean air;” that during a testing period, officials replaced miners who ran the most dust-causing machines with miners who were not wearing the dust testing devices, so that the company would pass the tests; that Armstrong officials fabricated and submitted dust sampling test results on days the mine was shut down or otherwise not in operation; that officials ordered that testing devices be run in “clean air,” before and after shifts, to skew the test results toward passing; that a mine superintendent twice mandated to a safety official to take whatever action necessary to ensure that the company passed dust sampling tests.
Armstrong Coal is designated by the indictment as an unindicted co-conspirator. Those former Armstrong supervisory and safety officials charged include:
- Charley Barber, age 63, of Madisonville, a former Superintendent of Parkway Mine;
- Glendal “Buddy” Hardison, age 69, of Belton, the former manager of all of Armstrong Coal western Kentucky mines;
- Brian Keith Casebier, age 60, of Earlington, a former Safety Director at Parkway Mine;
- Steven Demoss, age 48, of Nortonville, a former Assistant Safety Director at Parkway Mine;
- Billie Hearld, age 42, of Russellville, a former Section Foreman at Parkway Mine;
- Ron Ivy, age 50, of Manitou, a former Safety Director at Kronos Mine;
- John Ellis Scott, age 62, of South Carrollton, a former employee in the Safety Department at Parkway Mine;
- Dwight Fulkerson, age 40, of Drakesboro, a former Section Foreman who performed dust testing at Parkway Mine; and
- Jeremy Hackney, age 46, of White Plains, also a former Section Foremen who performed dust testing at Parkway Mine.
The Kronos Mine remains in operation under different ownership. The Parkway Mine is no longer open.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Randy Ream, Corinne Keel and Department of Labor attorney Jason Grover.
The indictment of a person by a grand jury is an accusation only and that person is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.