Three more charged in false billing scheme at Alpha mines - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Three more charged in false billing scheme at Alpha mines

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CHARLESTON, WV — Three more people have been charged in what U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin calls a major false billing scheme orchestrated by former employees of Alpha Natural Resources and some of its suppliers.

Ricky R. Smith, of 49, Glen Daniels, James Rodger Long II, 34, of Beckley, and Harold Wayne Brown, II, 41, of Madison were charged on Aug. 22, Goodwin's office announced. All three have agreed to plead guilty and are cooperating with the ongoing investigation, Goodwin said.

Smith and Long, both former local "sourcing agents" for Massey Energy ("Massey") legacy mines, have been charged by information with wire fraud and aiding and abetting. Both were sourcing agents at Massey Energy legacy mines acquired by Alpha. Brown, a former Alpha underground maintenance chief, was charged with making a false statement to federal authorities in connection with the false billing scheme.

An ongoing investigation revealed that several mine sourcing agents, generally responsible for ordering goods and services for mining operations from Alpha suppliers, participated in an illegal scheme to obtain goods for their own personal benefit.  The investigation further revealed that the sourcing agents, working in conjunction with the suppliers, hid numerous illegal transactions by creating false invoices., Goodwin said.

According to court documents, on October 6, 2011, sourcing agent Ricky Smith submitted a false invoice for $16,500 to purchase a "duster" from a leading Alpha parts supplier, M&S Hydraulics.  Court documents also revealed that in a similar scheme, James Long, working with co-conspirators, submitted a false invoice for equipment totaling $8,820 to M&S Hydraulics.  The false invoices were intended to look like legitimate purchases but were actually used to provide cash, gifts and other things of value to the sourcing agents and other Alpha employees, Goodwin said.

In March, charges were filed against the owner of M&S Hydraulics, Donald Bryan Steele. Steele was charged with wire fraud and aiding and abetting in connection with the false billing scheme.  Charges were also previously filed in March against co-conspirators Edward Ellis Mullins, 41, of Peytona, Joey R. Phalin, 36, of Crab Orchard, and Nicholas R. Coleman, 29, of Lester.  Mullins, Phalin and Coleman are all former sourcing agents for Massey Energy legacy mines. Each defendant was charged by information with wire fraud and aiding and abetting.  All four defendants have agreed to plead guilty and are cooperating with the ongoing investigation.

Mullins was employed as the sourcing agent for the Shonk Powellton #1 mine, operated by the Elk Run Coal Company, an Alpha subsidiary.  Around November 2011, Mullins approached a supplier, who generally provided tires, wheels and other vehicle-related materials to Massey and now Alpha, about supplying him and other Alpha employees tires and wheels for their personal vehicles.  In exchange, Mullins agreed to allow the tire seller to submit false invoices for payment to Alpha reflecting that tires used in the mining operations had been delivered.  For its participation, the tire seller was told to "pad" the false invoice.  The tire seller immediately provided this information to Alpha corporate security, who, in turn, contacted the FBI and West Virginia State Police.  A criminal investigation revealed that not only Mullins, but other sourcing agents, including Phalin and Coleman, who were employed by another Alpha subsidiary, Marfork Coal Company, were also engaged in the false billing scheme Goodwin said.

Through the sourcing agents' cooperation and other information, law enforcement agents have identified other conspirators linked to the widespread false-billing scheme.

Mullins, Phalin, Coleman and Steele each face up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. 

Smith and Long each face each face up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.   Brown faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The investigation was conducted by the FBI and the West Virginia State Police with cooperation from Alpha Natural Resource's internal security team.  Assistant United States Attorney Thomas Ryan is in charge of the prosecutions.