Ex-MSHA head, industry expert at center of federal probe

LONG-time mine safety expert and former US Mine Safety and Health Administration head J Davitt McAteer is reportedly being accused by federal officials of diverting millions of dollars in federal grant money to other personal and business causes.
Ex-MSHA head, industry expert at center of federal probe Ex-MSHA head, industry expert at center of federal probe Ex-MSHA head, industry expert at center of federal probe Ex-MSHA head, industry expert at center of federal probe Ex-MSHA head, industry expert at center of federal probe

J Davitt McAteer. Courtesy West Virginia Independent Colleges and Universities

Donna Schmidt

According to the Associated Press, McAteer – now vice president of Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia – fraudulently used an unidentified amount of federal funding for expenses including his salary, cell phones and the salaries of his staff, including the secretary of his private law office in northern West Virginia.

The funding funneling is believed to have occurred between 2005 and 2011.

The claims have been made by a National Aeronautics and Space Administration Office of Inspector General agent who reportedly filed an affidavit late last week seeking to obtain search warrants for the active criminal probe.

The AP said US magistrate James Seibert renewed an order on Thursday to seal warrants, supporting affidavits and other documentation for another 60 days.

They had previously been sealed since an initial February seizure.

“There is good cause to continue sealing such paperwork," he said.

In February, WJU officials confirmed a seizure of records from McAteer’s offices but the AP on Friday said the documents were taken by NASA as well as the US Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General and other parties.

McAteer also runs the university's office of sponsored programs, which receives funding for research to be done at the National Technology Transfer Center.

The NTTC does work on mine safety as well as health technology and missile defense.

The motion is examining other current and former employees of the university and some will be appearing before a grand jury in the case.

While it did not immediately respond to an ILN request for comment, school spokesperson Michelle Rejonis told the news service it was continuing to cooperate with federal investigators but had not yet seen the court records.

“As information becomes available to us, we will gather information and work from there.”

Meanwhile, McAteer's attorneys want the documents to be unsealed and said McAteer was not told what federal law he was accused of violating.

“[He has no] meaningful information about why his property and client files were taken," legal representative Stephen Jory told the AP.

"[The affidavit] has already caused the loss of considerable time to the defense and potentially irreparable harm.

“The reputations of Mr McAteer and Wheeling Jesuit University have been thrown into question by publicity surrounding the search of both Mr McAteer's law office and the office of sponsored programs at the university.

“It is extraordinarily unfair and indeed a violation of Mr McAteer's Fourth Amendment rights for the government to continue to keep the affidavit under seal when the search has already served to prompt the appearance of impropriety.”

McAteer, a staunch advocate of mine safety over his long career, was director of MSHA from 1992 to 2000 and was known as an international mine safety expert.

He was commissioned to complete independent investigations into the Sago mine explosion in 2006 that killed 12, the 2006 Alma mine fire that took two lives and the 2010 blast at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia where 29 died.

McAteer has organized an annual mine safety and health conference annually over the last several years, featuring speakers from research, academia and other industry groups, such as the United Mine Workers of America.

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