Sources say criminal charges could be filed against Blackjewel and Revelation Energy after the coal company allegedly failed to pay employee withholding taxes, retirement contributions, child support withholdings and insurance premiums, and also clawed back money from banks that had already been paid to employees for wages.
Letcher Commonwealth’s Attorney Edison Banks said no one has yet approached him about criminal charges, but said a coal company was indicted on theft of labor charges here in the 1980s, and it is possible it could be done again.
“Nobody has come to me and complained,” Banks said.
He said bankruptcy proceedings might also interfere with criminal charges because of an automatic stay that goes into effect when bankruptcy is filed.
On Sunday, Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear, who is also running for governor, issued a statement saying his office has received numerous complaints about Blackjewel’s actions from employees.
“I have therefore instructed my office to use all of its powers and resources to seek answers for those who have been harmed. No Kentuckian should put in an honest day’s work only to have their paycheck taken away and their livelihood disrupted,” Beshear said.
On Monday, Gov. Matt Bevin, who is running for re-election against Beshear, issued a statement as well, saying the Kentucky Department of Labor would open an investigation into Blackjewel.
“We will use every available tool within Kentucky’s statutory authority to help our hardworking miners and their families receive financial restitution,” Bevin said.
Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon visited Gillette, Wyoming, where many of the Blackjewel miners are from, on July 2 to meet with miners and reassure them that he would do everything he could as quickly as he could.
Kentucky and Letcher County officials will meet with Revelation Energy/ Blackjewel miners today (Wednesday) in Whitesburg.
County officials will meet informally with former employees of the company at 1 p.m. at the Letcher County Recreation Center in Whitesburg. That meeting will include representatives of Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment to tell workers about retraining and job opportunities, and investigators from the Kentucky Department of Labor.
Several hundred miners attended a similar meeting in Harlan County Monday.
The Casper Star-Tribune in Wyoming reported Tuesday that an employee of Blackjewel Mining has filed a class action lawsuit against the company in West Virginia, claiming it broke the law when it shut down mines in West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia, and Wyoming and filed bankruptcy.
The newspaper reported that David Engelbrecht filed the suit in federal court in West Virginia, alleging that Blackjewel violated the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act by failing to give workers the required notice that the company would close, or paying 60 days’ wages.
Meanwhile, money from checks miners received on the Friday before the company closed was removed from miners’ bank accounts days later, causing many to overdraft, and leaving some out of the area on vacation without money. A federal judge in Wyoming ordered the company to honor workers’ checks there, but the order does not affect Kentucky miners, who will get no paychecks until and unless the company reopens. Harlan County miners on Monday were encouraged to contact the Kentucky Department of Labor about the company’s failure to pay.
A bankruptcy judge approved $5 million in financing for Blackjewel on July 3 on the condition that owner Jeff Hoops resign from the company. That money is to be used for security and fire protection, not for salaries.
Blackjewel and Revelation, both owned by Hoops, closed abruptly last week, reportedly calling evening shift miners and telling them not to come to work.
— By SAM ADAMS