CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Arch Coal employees at a West Virginia mine are charged with pocketing almost $2 million from vendors in a pay-to-play kickback scheme, federal prosecutors said Friday.
U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said the widespread setup required vendors to pay kickbacks to Arch Coal employees to do business with the coal company.
Four employees at Arch Coal's Mountain Laurel mining complex in Logan County are accused of taking kickbacks from 2007 to 2012. Prosecutors said the mine's former general manager, David E. Runyon, was at the centre of the setup.
Prosecutors said some companies spent more than $400,000 to maintain lucrative contracts with Arch Coal, one of the biggest coal producers and marketers worldwide.
Ten people in all have been charged, with vendors, contractors and four Arch employees among them. The employees are no longer with the company.
Companies knew Arch Coal would sever their contracts if the side payments stopped. Likewise, Runyon knew losing the contracts would hurt the companies, according to court documents.
"This kind of pay-to-play scheme hurts honest coal industry vendors who refuse to pay bribes as a way to get customers," Goodwin said in a news release Friday.
Arch Coal has mines in Wyoming, Colorado, Illinois, West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia and Maryland. Its Mountain Laurel facility employs more than 350 in underground and surface mining. Mountain Laurel produced 2.9 million tons in sales last year, according to the company's website.
The St. Louis-based company has previously said it reached out to the U.S. attorney for help investigating possible misconduct. The company issued a statement Friday thanking investigators for their quick response.
"While it was extremely disappointing to find that former employees had failed to live up to our trust in them, we are pleased and relieved to have this issue behind us," the company said.
Runyon, a 45-year-old from Delbarton, faces up to 25 years in prison and $500,000 in fines if convicted of extortion and tax evasion.
Runyon's charges show a variety of contracts dependent on kickbacks, from mine machine repair to contracted mine labour.
Two employees at Tri-State Mining Service Inc. shelled out nearly $425,000 over five years to keep their contract, prosecutors said. An unnamed Arch Coal worker helped fix the bidding process, which requires three bids, by securing other vendors to place bids that couldn't win, court documents say.
Quality Oil Inc., then doing business as Southern Construction of Logan, directly paid Runyon $400,000 in kickbacks through its owner, Alvis R. Porter, prosecutors said.
Porter, a 61-year-old from Holden, is a former Logan County Circuit Court clerk. He was charged with failing to collect, account for and pay over trust fund taxes for an employee.
In another instance, prosecutors said, the owner of MAC Mine Service Inc. paid $340,000 for more than three years to keep Runyon from terminating a contract for mine labour.
Another vendor that refurbishes mine shuttle cars gave Runyon and a former maintenance manager at least $250,000 in kickbacks, prosecutors said.
"If they are willing to pay upwards of $2 million in total to keep them, you can imagine how big these contracts are," Goodwin said.
Court documents and officials did not discuss specifics of the contracts.
Other Arch employees and vendors face various charges, from mail fraud to structuring cash withdrawals.
Goodwin said the investigation is ongoing and he anticipates other significant developments.