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FBI Probing U.S. Officials And Massey, Owner Of W. Va. Mine Where 29 Died

(This post has several updates. Be sure to click your "refresh" button to see the latest.)

Updated at 3:25 pm ET —

A federal law-enforcement source is denying that the Mine Safety and Health Administration is being investigated as part of a larger probe into the circumstances surrounding the Upper Big Branch mine disaster in West Virginia.

NPR has reported that Massey Energy and MSHA were the subjects of investigations.

The federal law enforcement source said: "I can say that there's an investigation but it's not about them (MSHA)"

NPR stands by its earlier report.

—- original post below —-

NPR News has learned that the Mine Safety and Health Administration is one subject of a federal criminal investigation surrounding the explosion of the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia three weeks ago — a disaster that killed 29 miners. The probe also looks at Massey Energy, the owner of the mine.

Sources familiar with the investigation say the FBI is looking into possible bribery of employees of the Mine Safety and Health Administration, the federal agency that inspects and regulates mining. The sources say FBI agents are also exploring potential criminal negligence on the part of Massey Energy, the owner of the Upper Big Branch mine.

Massey has been cited repeatedly for violations of federal safety regulations and unsubstantiated rumors have circulated for years that mine inspectors and other officials receive payoffs. The FBI declines comment and neither confirms nor denies that an investigation is ongoing.

In a statement to NPR, Massey Energy says it is not aware of the allegations, and is fully cooperating with any investigations taking place. The Mine Safety and Health Administration has yet to respond to a request for comment.

(Howard Berkes is an NPR correspondent who focuses on rural affairs. The audio of his report follows. Dina Temple-Raston is an NPR correspondent who focuses on national security and counterterrorism.)

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Update at 11:55 a.m. ET: This report is part of an ongoing NPR News Investigation into safety at the nation's mines. Earlier this month, Howard and NPR's Robert Benincasa reported about a pattern of safety violations at Massey Energy mines. And Howard has reported about how Massey CEO Don Blankenship's pay soared even as safety violations and injuries at the company's facilities went up.

Update at 12:35 p.m. ET. The Associated Press is now reporting that:

"The FBI has interviewed nearly two dozen current and former employees of Massey Energy in a criminal probe of the West Virginia mine explosion that killed 29 men, a federal law enforcement official said Friday."

Update at 12:45 p.m. ET. A short time ago, Howard spoke with Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep about the story:

Update at 12:50 p.m. ET. Massey Energy just released this statement "regarding a National Public Radio report about an investigation by the FBI":

"Massey has no knowledge of criminal wrongdoing.

"It is not uncommon that an accident of the size and scope of UBB would lead to a comprehensive investigation by relevant law enforcement agencies.

"We are cooperating with all agencies that are investigating the tragedy at UBB. Massey does not and will not tolerate any improper or illegal conduct and will respond aggressively as circumstances warrant.

"Massey Energy Company, headquartered in Richmond, Virginia, with operations in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia, is the largest coal producer in Central Appalachia and is included in the S&P 500 Index."

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