Feds: 8 former employees of Armstrong Coal indicted by a grand jury for lying about miner safety

WESTERN KENTUCKY (WFIE) - The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Kentucky held a news conference in Owensboro.

It was to discuss what they call "significant federal law enforcement action" pertaining to mine safety in Western Kentucky.

Officials say eight former employees of Armstrong Coal Company have been indicted by a grand jury.

They say Charley Barber, Brian Keith Casebier, Steve Demoss, Billie Hearld, Ron Ivy, John Ellis Scott, Dwight Fulkerson and Jeremy Hackney, conspired to commit dust fraud by altering the company's required dust sampling procedures.

Authorities say the procedures are mandatory health and safety standards designed to protect miners from what's commonly known as Black Lung disease.

"The health of our miners matters; to Western Kentucky communities and those sworn to protect them" stated U. S. Attorney Russell Coleman "When companies and their senior officials are prepared to disregard the law and put miners at risk, they should also be prepared to face federal prosecutors."

"Compliance with dust sampling programs is crucial to protecting miners against respiratory illness," said MSHA Assistant Secretary David G. Zatezalo. "Deliberate disregard for the safety and health regulations that protect workers warrants the most severe penalties allowed under the law."

Click here to read the full indictment.

Court documents say the former employees worked at Parkway Mine and Krono Mine.

We spoke with the man who brought the allegations to light.

Michael Wilson worked at Parkway Mine for six years until it recently closed, but he tells us mine officials there were cheating on safety that whole time.

Wilson says he and other miners were trained to tamper with the dust testing devices and said everyone knew it was going on, but he came forward once he saw a large batch of new miners getting trained to continue the cycle of alleged misconduct.

From working there, Wilson says he developed black lung, a disease with no cure and similar symptoms to the long-term effects of tobacco smoking. Wilson says his bosses brushed those risks aside.

"When I found out I had black lung, I filed for a Part 90. I notified the company that I was going to use it or they had to move me away from the dust," Wilson said. "They got mad. They tried everything they could to fire me, get me to quit. I was too old. I hung in there."

Wilson said he's been mining for 44 years and never ran into such a situation until he started with Parkway Mine.

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