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Federal judge accepts deal with Justice-owned companies over mine safety fines

CHARLESTON — A judge Thursday accepted a deal between companies owned by Gov. Jim Justice and federal prosecutors over unpaid mine safety fines and penalties.

Senior U.S. District Judge Glen Conrad issued an order accepting the agreement between 23 Justice-owned companies and Thomas Cullen, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia.

According to the agreement, Justice’s companies agreed to pay $5.1 million to the U.S. government. The companies will pay a one-time payment of $212,909.44 by Wednesday, April 15, and $102,442 per month by the first of every month until the $5.1 million is paid in full.

“We believe this is a fair and reasonable settlement for the companies and the government in that we agreed to pay what we owe,” said Stephen Ball, general counsel for Justice’s companies. “We have always maintained our willingness to pay assessments owed by our companies. Over the last year and a half, we exchanged information and negotiated in good faith with the government to reach the settlement announced today.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Western District of Virginia and the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration brought a lawsuit against the Justice-owned companies May 7, 2019, seeking $4.8 million in unpaid mine safety penalties.

Between May 3, 2014, and May 3, 2019, the 23 companies named in the suit were issued 2,297 citations and civil penalties by federal mine inspectors. According to court filings, Justice’s companies didn’t pay the penalties and didn’t even provide notice of intent to contest the penalties.

At one point, MSHA sent Justice’s 23 companies to the Justice Department for collections when the companies failed to pay the penalties after two letters were sent demanding payment. After the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Virginia made contact on Sept. 5, 2018, with a written demand for payment, the Justice companies continued to ignore the debt, resulting in the May 7 lawsuit.

Justice’s companies filed a lawsuit of their own May 17, 2019, against the Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation Enforcement, claiming the federal agency did not live up to a settlement agreement the companies made to pay past penalties in April 2019. Arguments for a motion to dismiss the case filed by OSMRE is scheduled for May 11.

Over the past two years, several of the 23 Justice-owned companies tried to get dismissed from the lawsuit, claiming that the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Western Virginia had no jurisdiction over companies registered in West Virginia. Cullen was able to show that these same companies have claimed to be registered in Roanoke, Va., in various court documents.

The 23 companies listed in the federal lawsuit include: Southern Coal Corp.; A and G Coal Corp.; Justice Coal of Alabama LLC; Black River Coal LLC; Chestnut Land Holdings LLC; Double Bonus Coal Co.; Dynamic Energy, Inc.; Four Star Resources LLC; Frontier Coal Co. Inc.; Infinity Energy Inc.; Justice Energy Co. Inc.; Justice Highwall Mining Inc.; Kentucky Fuel Corp.; Keystone Services Industries Inc.; M and P Services Inc.; Nine Mile Mining Co. Inc.; Nufac Mining Co. Inc.; Pay Car Mining Inc.; Premium Coal Co. Inc.; S and H Mining Inc.; Sequoia Energy LLC; Tams Management Inc.; and Virginia Fuel Corp.

While the majority of Justice’s companies are not in blind trusts, his children have divided management of the companies, with son Jay managing the coal and agricultural businesses, and daughter Jill managing the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs.

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