The story of Alger B. Jent, 57, of Kite in Knott County, says a lot about the dangers under which people are willing to work to make a living in Eastern Kentucky.
When a federal judge in Pikeville last week sentenced Jent, a coal operator, to two years of probation for violating mine safety laws, the head of the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, Joe Main, issued a statement saying: "Those who flout the nation's mine safety and health laws and endanger miners lives will be held accountable for their crimes."
Considering Jent's history, though, some might wonder whether he has really been held accountable. Or if the probation and legal fees should be viewed as just a cost of doing business.
Jent is "one of MSHA's most recalcitrant civil penalty violators," writes Mine Safety and Health News editor Ellen Smith.
Jent, whose most recent mining operation employed 10 people, owes $746,210 in penalties for violating mine safety laws plus $30,723 in interest and administrative costs related to the delinquent debt.
When Jent first appears in the Herald-Leader's archives it's as a foreman for Ampak Mining Inc. in Knott County in 1987. According to testimony in an administrative hearing, Jent ordered miners to cut corners on safety and take risks that were dangerous and against the law.
Ampak lost a case brought by a miner who said he was fired for questioning Jent's unsafe orders. When the miner complained about the safety violations, according to court records, "Jent patted his pocket in which he carried a pistol."
The company was out of business when the judge ruled that the miner had been wrongly fired.
In 2006, the Kentucky Office of Mine Safety and Licensing settled a case against Jent, who had been superintendent at Rama Development Co., Inc.'s No. 4 mine. As a result of the settlement, his state certification as an underground mine foreman, assistant foreman and underground miner was placed on probation for two years.
In January, a federal grand jury indicted Jent for violating mine safety laws. MSHA special investigators had discovered in 2008 that Jent's small operation on the Pike-Letcher county line had violated the MSHA approved roof-control plan. The mine's roof had been loosely bolted, increasing the risk that tons of rock and slate would crash down on workers.
The plea agreement says Jent's actions were "deliberate and intentional."
"He never paid one penalty when he owned CSA Mining No. 2 Mine," Smith reports. The Treasury wrote off the debt last December when Jent was indicted and CSA went out of business.
Under the terms of his sentence, Jent is prohibited from owning or operating an underground mine or supervising miners during his two-year probation.
But Jent, who racked up 22 electrical violations carrying penalties of $149,922, is allowed under his sentence to act "as an instructor teaching miners and potential miners about electrical equipment and safety."
Wouldn't you love for your child or spouse to be working alongside a miner trained by Jent?