Former Sago Mine Foreman Indicted

A coal miner's helmet sits atop a flag-draped wooden cross outside a memorial service honoring the victims of the Sago Mine explosion Sunday, Jan. 15, 2006, at Wesley Chapel on the West Virginia Wesleyan campus in Buckhannon, W.Va. (AP Photo/Bob Bird)
AP Photo/Bob Bird
A former Sago Mine foreman was indicted Tuesday on federal charges that he falsified inspection reports at the mine in 2004 and was never certified as a miner or mining foreman.

The 116-count indictment against Robert L. Dennison is not related to the Jan. 2 explosion that led to the deaths of 12 miners.

Dennison, 35, was hired in May 2004 by the mine's former owner, Anker Energy, and was fired in August of that year after the company learned he was not certified to do safety inspections, according to the indictment.

"This type of allegedly fraudulent activity has no place in the mining environment, especially when the safety of miners is placed at risk," U.S. Attorney Thomas E. Johnston said.

If convicted, Dennison could face up to five years in prison and $10,000 in fines for each of 113 counts. He could receive up to five years and $250,000 in fines for each of the remaining counts.

A call to Dennison's home in Wallace went unanswered Tuesday evening. A reporter for Bridgeport television station WDTV said Dennison declined to comment to the station until he consulted an attorney.

Dennison was never issued an underground miner's card. His only certification is as a mining truck driver, according to the West Virginia Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training.

On his first inspection form, Dennison allegedly failed to include his foreman's certification number. On subsequent inspections, the indictment says, he listed a number that belongs to a foreman who does not know Dennison.

The indictment, issued by a grand jury in Elkins, also alleges that Dennison lied to an investigator with the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration who questioned him.

The cause of the blast at the mine about 100 miles north of Charleston has not been determined but is believed to have occurred in an abandoned section of the mine that had been sealed off.

The Sago Mine was cited for 208 alleged safety violations during 2005, at least 17 of which were considered serious. The mine's current owner has said it inherited many of the problems and had been working to correct them.

The mine was purchased last year by Ashland, Ky.-based International Coal Group. ICG formally took control of the mine in November, but started work there as management consultants in June.

ICG officials declined to comment on Tuesday's indictment because the company "neither operated nor owned the mine at the time," spokesman Matt Barkett said.

ICG officials have said their company inherited many of the mine's safety problems and have been working to correct the violations.