Former state Rep. W. Keith Hall, D-Phelps, paid about $46,000 in bribes to cover up environmental and safety violations at his Pike County coal mines, according to a plea deal entered Wednesday by former state mine inspector Kelly Shortridge.
Shortridge, 54, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Pikeville to one count of soliciting a bribe. He faces up to 10 years in prison, although he has agreed to fully cooperate with federal prosecutors, who plan to put Hall on trial April 20 for his role in the case.
Shortridge, who remains free on bond, is scheduled to be sentenced June 24.
In his plea agreement, Shortridge said he worked at the Kentucky Division of Mine Reclamation and Enforcement when Hall bribed him, in 2009 and 2010, to not cite Hall's surface mines for repeated violations. Most of the money was disguised as payments made by some of Hall's companies to a shell business, DKJ Consulting, established under the name of Shortridge's wife, Shortridge said.
A call to Hall's defense attorney was not immediately returned Wednesday.
The Herald-Leader first reported in 2013 on a history of unresolved violations at Hall's mines and on Hall's dealings with Shortridge, whom he had accused — in phone calls to state officials — of demanding cash from him. Prosecutors opened their investigation after the Herald-Leader's stories were printed.
Hall was defeated in last year's Democratic primary for his House seat. He spent 14 years in the legislature, where he was chairman of the House Tourism Development and Energy Committee and vice chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, posts that allowed him to help regulate the coal industry.
In 2011, the Legislative Ethics Commission fined Hall $2,000 after one of his companies won $171,000 in no-bid sewer line projects that he had voted to include in the state budget.