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Mine analyst quit after probe found fabrications

HAZARD — A state mine-safety analyst resigned last month after an inquiry into allegations that she fabricated inspection reports for sites she did not visit or saw only briefly.

The Courier-Journal reported Monday that Betty Sue Whitaker resigned last month after 10 years at the Office of Mine Safety and Licensing after being accused of pretending to evaluate mine workers.

Whitaker's primary responsibility was to prevent accidents and fatalities by observing the work habits of miners and submitting detailed reports on her findings. Investigators with the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet alleged that in late 2007 and through last year, Whitaker rarely visited any of the mines she claimed to have inspected, instead concocting phony reports and forging company officials' signatures on them.

And she escaped detection, the state found, in part because coal-company officials who knew of her absences from their mines did not report them, and because her longtime former supervisor either did not notice or challenge what she was doing.

Whitaker, 50, of Perry County, denied falsifying reports. She told the newspaper that she resigned because of an array of physical ailments that rendered her barely able to walk.

Whitaker's current supervisor, David Mullins, noticed discrepancies that made him suspicious. In one case, Whitaker reported that she had observed two miners working at a Perry County mine, neither of whom were on the job. One was in a hospital at the time, and the other had been suspended for a drug violation.

Investigators then began an investigation that allegedly found that Whitaker had "completely fabricated" 26 reports last year and at least three more in 2007.

The investigators also alleged that Whitaker submitted to the state more than 1,200 hours that she had not worked and received more than $33,000 in salary she had not earned.

They also concluded that her neglect had placed miners at "greater risk of being seriously injured or killed."

Cabinet spokesman Dick Brown said the state won't seek criminal charges against Whitaker. Her resignation, Brown said, is appropriate punishment.

Brown also said the state has no plans to seek repayment of the salary that investigators alleged she had fraudulently collected.

"We believe our time is better spent concentrating on providing a safe working environment for Kentucky coal miners," he said.