Judge says West Virginia governor's coal firm owes $1.5M

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A federal judge ruled this week that one of West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice’s businesses owes more than $1.5 million to a Swiss company for undelivered coal.

U.S. District Judge Elizabeth K. Dillon on Tuesday granted a request from VISA Commodities to enforce an April order from a London-based arbitrator that found Bluestone Coal Sales Corp. liable for $1.5 million plus arbitration costs and interest, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported.

The problem started when Bluestone failed to supply 70,000 metric tons of coal under a November 2020 agreement, according to VISA Commodities’ court filings. In an April 2021 settlement, Bluestone agreed to pay VISA Commodities $1.5 million by July 30, 2021. But Bluestone failed to pay and also failed to participate in the subsequent arbitration, according to VISA Commodities’ filing with the Virginia Western District court.

Neither the Governor’s Office nor an attorney for Justice’s coal companies responded to the newspaper's requests for comment.

Justice’s coal companies have a long history of unpaid obligations. Federal officials have said nearly two dozen of Justice’s companies were consistently late in making monthly payments on $5.13 million in mine safety fines they agreed to pay in 2020. Justice is listed as controller of nearly 200 mines with safety fine delinquencies totaling $1.7 million, according to federal Mine Safety and Health Administration records obtained by the Gazette-Mail.

Workers have also complained of missed obligations. Trustees of a United Mine Workers union benefit plan filed a federal lawsuit last year asserting that three of Justice’s coal companies failed to pay required monthly premiums over four years. And retirees of Justice's coal companies have complained in recent years of interruptions to their prescription drug coverage.

Justice pledged to put his adult children in charge of his family’s businesses after taking office in 2017. James C. “Jay” Justice III, the governor's son, is president of Bluestone Coal Sales Corp., based in Roanoke, Virginia. The governor has suggested in court proceedings and interviews since taking office that he remains familiar with his coal companies’ operations.

In September 2021, the governor said Bluestone Resources, another one of his coal companies, had offered Credit Suisse $300 million and half the value of the family's coal firms to settle about $740 million in outstanding loans. The Justices' companies had been in talks with Credit Suisse after the downfall of London-based Greensill Capital, which had loaned them $850 million in 2018. Justice said he personally guaranteed those loans. Earlier this year, Bluestone Resources agreed to pay lenders up to $320 million in recurring payments starting in June.

The Associated Press