The Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet said Wednesday that it will meet with the FBI to determine whether a longtime coal mine inspector, Kelly Shortridge, falsified his reports beyond his work on mines that were owned by former state Rep. W. Keith Hall, D-Phelps.
During Hall's trial last week in U.S. District Court in Pikeville, where he was convicted of bribing Shortridge with tens of thousands of dollars to win favorable treatment, FBI forensic accountant Tressa Whittington testified that Shortridge separately deposited about $46,000 in cash at his bank over five years.
According to Shortridge's bank records and work reports, he sometimes made these cash deposits — in sums exceeding $1,000 — within hours of inspecting various mines in the Pike County area that were owned by various people, not just Hall, Whittington told the jury. But the subject did not come up again during Hall's trial, and Shortridge did not discuss it during his own testimony against Hall.
Shortridge made $45,160 a year as an inspector in the Pikeville office of the state Division of Mine Reclamation and Enforcement. He resigned in 2014 after 24 years on the job. He has pleaded guilty to soliciting bribes from Hall and awaits sentencing Aug. 6. Hall is set to be sentenced Sept. 17.
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Although the cabinet previously has declined to revisit Shortridge's past mine inspections, officials changed their mind based on the federal government's testimony during Hall's trial.
"Given the evidence presented at the Keith Hall trial, we have asked to meet with the FBI to obtain information they already have which could assist the cabinet in determining if the mine inspections were done properly," cabinet spokesman Dick Brown said. "We can then review the information in our files to determine if there are any violations that should have been cited but were not.
"Any investigation by the cabinet would be focused on whether Shortridge falsified inspection reports at these particular mines on those particular visits and dates," Brown said. "If he accepted money from coal operators, that is a criminal matter that would have to be addressed by the FBI or other law-enforcement agencies."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ken Taylor, who prosecuted Hall, did not return a call seeking comment Wednesday. Shortridge's attorney, R. Kent Westberry, declined to comment on the cabinet's plans.
The Division of Mine Reclamation and Enforcement has taken steps to help avoid a future problem like Kelly Shortridge, Brown said. The agency now rotates inspectors among mine assignments at least once every three years to avoid the sort of private relationship that Shortridge and Hall established. Supervisors also are required to conduct site visits with each of their inspectors at least once a month.
The cabinet employs "hundreds of Kentuckians who do their job well and without incident. It is extremely unfortunate that the actions of one employee cast the other hardworking men and women of this agency in a negative light," Brown said.