Suspended miner seeks dismissal of one count of indictment



A suspended coal miner accused of falsifying his qualifications to conduct safety exams at a West Virginia mine is challenging the government's indictment, saying a charge of lying to federal agents should be dismissed because the interview happened outside the jurisdiction of the U.S. attorney's office in Wheeling, W.Va.

But federal prosecutors say the claim, like Sean A. Chase's qualifications, has no merit.

Mr. Chase, 31, of Spencer, W.Va., is under indictment on 29 counts related to falsification of records and statements while working at the Tunnel Ridge Mine, west of Wheeling in Ohio County.

He is also charged with one count of lying to U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration agents when they came to question him at his house on April 17, 2013.

Mr. Chase and his lawyer are trying to get that 30th count dismissed for improper venue, saying that because the interview took place at his home in Roane County, the offense charged happened outside the jurisdiction of the U.S. attorney's office for the Northern District of West Virginia and therefore should have no standing.

Roane County is part of the jurisdiction of the southern district.

Prosecutors in Wheeling responded that the motion should be dismissed because the interview clearly pertained to events at Tunnel Ridge Mine and that it doesn't matter where the actual interview took place.

The lying count is critical to the case because agents said Mr. Chase provided a formal, witnessed statement in which he said he'd taken a certification test and was certified to conduct safety exams but had lost his certification card in a flood.

Mr. Chase repeatedly claimed to be a foreman qualified to perform mine safety examinations but holds no such certification, a grand jury said.

In several sets of daily shift records kept at the mine, according to the grand jury, he indicated on multiple occasions in 2012 and 2013 that he was a foreman and he provided a foreman certification number.

The U.S. attorney's office said the case came to light when all the certification numbers of foremen at the mine were reviewed for the purpose of continuing education requirements.

Investigators found that the number submitted for Mr. Chase had never been issued by the state and turned the matter over to MSHA and the U.S. attorney.

Mr. Chase surrendered his certifications as a miner and agreed to a one-year suspension, according to court records.

But the charge of lying to MSHA could mean jail time.

He remains free on bond pending trial, scheduled for early June.

Torsten Ove: tove@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1510.

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