Montana coal mine admits breaking safety rules


BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) – A central Montana coal mine pleaded guilty Thursday to federal charges that the company violated environmental and employee safety regulations in a plea deal that provides for a $ 1 fine. million dollars, the Montana attorney’s office said.

Signal Peak Energy, through a representative, pleaded guilty to four counts of willful violation of health and safety standards. The agreement provides for a fine of $ 250,000 for each offense and a probationary sentence. If the court rejects the plea agreement, the company can withdraw it and go to trial.

A sentencing date before U.S. District Judge Susan Watters has yet to be set.

Federal prosecutors said that in 2013 and 2015, mine managers near Roundup inappropriately disposed of mine waste called sludge by pumping it into abandoned sections of the mine. And on two occasions in 2018, mine managers attempted to cover up injuries that occurred at the mine by encouraging employees to report that the injuries occurred at home. Mines are required to report employee injuries to the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

The vice president of underground operations gave $ 2,000 in cash to an employee whose finger was crushed on the job and had to be amputated, prosecutors said. A minor who suffered a severe head laceration from falling rocks saw the days he was unable to work counted against his vacation, court records show.

“Signal Peak’s conduct has shown a blatant and callous disregard for the health and safety of its own workers and for the protection of the environment,” Acting US Attorney Leif Johnson said in a statement.

The prosecution of the mine is part of a broad investigation into corruption in the management and operations of the mine which has led to convictions of former mine officials and associates for embezzlement, tax evasion, bank fraud, money laundering, drug trafficking and firearms violations.

Former vice president of surface operations Larry Wayne Price Jr. is serving a five-year prison sentence for defrauding $ 20 million companies. Zachary Ruble, a former surface mine manager, has been sentenced to probation for conspiring to defraud Signal Peak Energy of $ 2.3 million, federal prosecutors have said.

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