BILLINGS — Signal Peak Energy LLC, which admitted to willful violation of health and safety standards at its underground coal mine near Roundup by failing to report injuries to workers and improperly disposing mine waste, was sentenced today to pay a $1 million criminal fine and to three years of probation, U.S. Attorney Leif M. Johnson said.
Signal Peak Energy pleaded guilty in October to four counts of willful violation of health and safety standard, a misdemeanor.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy J. Cavan presided. Judge Cavan followed the terms of a plea agreement by imposing the statutory maximum $250,000 fine for each count of conviction and ordering probation. Judge Cavan also ordered $400 restitution to be paid to one of the injured workers.
“This case holds Signal Peak Mine accountable for its utter disregard for environmental and worker health and safety standards. Mine owners provided little in the way of meaningful oversight of mine operations as long as the mine’s managers could meet reported safety and production goals. That lax oversight fostered a climate of fraud, which today cost the mine $1 million in fines. In addition, mine managers lied about the mine’s expenses, its safety record, and other matters, which separately resulted in individual criminal convictions and charges for nine persons, including former mine vice presidents and their associates, on crimes ranging from embezzlement, tax evasion and bank fraud to money laundering, drugs and firearms violations. I want to thank Assistant U.S. Attorneys Colin M. Rubich, Zeno B. Baucus and Timothy Tatarka along with the IRS, FBI, Department of Labor and Environmental Protection Agency for investigating and prosecuting this case and bringing wrongdoers to justice,” U.S. Attorney Johnson said.
“The IRS, along with our law enforcement partners, will vigorously pursue corporate officers who victimize their investors and violate the public trust,” said Andy Tsui, Special Agent in Charge of the Denver Field Office, IRS Criminal Investigation. “High-ranking corporate officials hold positions of trust not only in their companies but also in the eyes of the public. That trust is broken when such officials abuse their power and commit crimes.”
“Signal Peak, under the direction of its former corrupt top executives, perpetuated an unsafe work environment for several years,” said Special Agent in Charge Dennis Rice of the Salt Lake City FBI. “Federal law entitles everyone to a safe workplace, and we encourage the public to report hazardous working conditions or any wrongdoing so a proper investigation can take place.”
“The provisions of the Mine Safety and Health Act are essential to keeping miners safe on the job, and operators have a responsibility under the law to ensure those protections are in place at all times,” said Department of Labor Regional Solicitor John Rainwater. “We are pleased that our Department of Justice and Environmental Protection Agency partners take mine safety and health seriously and will not hesitate to use all available tools to make mines safer through prosecutions like these.”
“Signal Peak Energy violated mandatory health and safety standards by pumping mine water waste down bore holes without the required permits,” said Special Agent in Charge Lance Ehrig of EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division in Montana. “Today’s sentencing demonstrates that EPA and its partners will hold corporations accountable when they ignore environmental regulations and put worker’s health at risk.”
In the Signal Peak Energy case, the government alleged in court documents that from 2013 through 2018, Signal Peak Energy habitually violated mandatory health and safety standards in the Mine Safety and Health Act during the mine’s operation. These violations included both environmental safety and worker safety standards. The violations occurred with the full knowledge, direction and participation of the mine’s most senior management during that period, including the president and CEO, the vice president of surface operations, the vice president of underground operations and the safety manager.
The government further alleged that senior managers directed mine employees to improperly dispose of mine waste by pumping the waste, known as slurry, into abandoned sections the mine and failed to report as required injuries to employees while pressuring injured workers not to report injuries as work related. One worker suffered a crushed finger that later required amputation and a second worker suffered a severe head laceration.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Colin M. Rubich, Zeno B. Baucus and Timothy Tatarka prosecuted the case, which was investigated by the IRS Criminal Investigation, FBI, Department of Labor and Environmental Protection Agency.
PACER case reference. 21-79.
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