US attorney Booth Goodwin said Wednesday that Thomas Harrah, 45, had been charged with making a false statement on a federal document required by the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act, and also for making false statements to a special agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and a special investigator for the US Mine Safety and Health Administration.
“Since shortly after the tragedy at Upper Big Branch, the [US] president has been clear in his directives. He expects us to investigate the cause of the explosion, bring those responsible to justice, and take the steps necessary to prevent a similar tragedy from occurring again,” Goodwin said.
“This case arose from our investigation into the explosion and is directed at preventing a similar tragedy from happening again.”
Harrah admitted that, while employed at UBB between January 2008 and August 2009, he performed the duties of a mine foreman despite not being qualified to be a foreman or assistant foreman. He signed pre-shift and on-shift examination reports, using a false foreman’s number, on more than 200 occasions; Harrah had actually failed his own mine foreman’s certification examination.
Harrah was transferred from UBB operator Performance Coal to Marfork Coal’s Slip Ridge in August 2009, where he also admitted using a false foreman’s number to certify pre-shift and on-shift examinations on about three different occasions in one shift.
The charges also allege that on October 22, 2010, Harrah made false statements to FBI and special MSHA investigators during an interview relating to the false foreman number.
“During the interview, Harrah stated that he had taken and failed the mine foreman’s examination,” Booth said.
“When he returned to work at Performance Coal, he informed an officer of Performance Coal that he had failed the examination. Harrah then stated that the officer provided him with a phone number to call [and] … when he called the number that the individual on the phone provided him with a mine foreman’s certification number.”
He also stated to the investigators that he had been faxed a copy of the foreman’s card but that he had lost it.
Harrah, in a later interview on October 28, admitted to being dishonest and said that, when he failed the examination, the Performance Coal officer did not give him a number to call and instead discussed with him the possibility of retaking the examination.
He did not retake the foreman’s test.
“Harrah further admitted that after reviewing the examination book which listed individuals who had passed the foreman’s examination, he changed a couple of digits on one of the numbers listed, and, a few months later, began using that number to sign pre-shift and on-shift examination books at Upper Big Branch mine,” Booth noted.
“When Harrah was interviewed by federal investigators on October 22, 2010, he knew that the information he provided them about how he had received the false foreman’s number was untrue.”
The investigation into Harrah’s conduct was performed by the FBI and MSHA in relation to the investigation into UBB.
Harrah faces up to 10 years in prison and a $US500,000 fine. His sentencing is scheduled for August 11 at 10am local time.