Coal Tattoo

Jim Justice


Well, our friend Howard Berkes at NPR (along with the good folks at West Virginia Public Broadcasting and the Ohio Valley ReSource) have put together the pieces of the puzzle. Their bombshell this morning on Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jim Justice reports:

… Justice’s mining companies still fail to pay millions of dollars in mine safety penalties two years after an earlier investigation documented the same behavior. Our analysis of federal data shows that Justice is now the nation’s top mine safety delinquent.

His mining companies owe $15 million in six states, including property and minerals taxes, state coal severance and withholding taxes, and federal income, excise and unemployment taxes, as well as mine safety penalties, according to county, state and federal records.

The story continues:

In the past 16 months, while fines and taxes went unpaid, Justice personally contributed nearly $2.9 million in interest-free loans and in-kind contributions to his gubernatorial campaign, according to state campaign finance reports.

Grant Herring, a spokesman for the Justice gubernatorial campaign, said Justice “won’t be doing an interview,” despite multiple requests after NPR provided details of our investigation.

Importantly, the investigation also reports:

Delinquent Justice mines also continue to have worse-than-average safety records, according to NPR’s analysis of MSHA injury and violations data. Our analysis shows that injury rates (for injuries forcing time away from work) are twice the national average and violations rates more than four times the national rate during the years the Justice mines failed to pay penalties.

The Justice fines concern Celeste Monforton, a former MSHA official, mine disaster investigator and lecturer on workplace safety at George Washington University and Texas State University.

“I don’t think we should forget that the reason that he has those penalties is because there were violations and hazards in his coal mining operations,” says Monforton.

Howard’s story explains that the reports in the Gazette-Mail about Justice’s unpaid taxes were just the tip of the iceberg. For example:

NPR found in county records in South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia more than $6 million in state and federal tax liens for failure to pay state withholding and coal severance taxes, and federal income, excise and unemployment taxes.

Most of the state and federal liens — more than $4.5 million worth — are in Justice’s home state of West Virginia, and more than 60 percent of that debt is for state coal severance taxes.

And, perhaps most remarkably — for a man who said earlier this week in the gubernatorial debate challenged voters to “look around … and find anything that I’ve ever told you that I’d do that I haven’t done” — there was these damning disclosures:

In 2011, with news stories celebrating the announcement, Justice promised to contribute $10 million to Cleveland Clinic Innovations, the commercialization arm of the Ohio medical giant.

Cleveland Clinic spokesperson Janice Guhl tells NPR “no money was received from Mr. Justice.”

Three months earlier, the Boy Scouts of America announced a $25 million gift from Justice to create the James C. Justice National Scout Camp, which is part of a 14,000-acre Boy Scout reserve in West Virginia.

But Herring confirms that Justice donated only $5 million and some land.