U.S. Attorney's Office
Southern District of West Virginia
(304) 345-2200
October 9, 2014

Lab Manager Pleads Guilty to Tampering with Water Samples

BECKLEY, WV—United States Attorney Booth Goodwin announced that John W. Shelton pled guilty today in federal court in Beckley to conspiring to violate the Clean Water Act. Shelton, 47, of Daniels, West Virginia, was employed by Appalachian Laboratories in Daniels as a field technician and manager. Appalachian Laboratories performed water sampling and analysis for coal mining operations to ensure that discharges of pollutants into public waterways were within permitted limits.

Shelton admitted that he and other employees tampered with water samples to make them appear to be within permissible levels. Shelton admitted that they diluted samples by adding distilled water, and substituted water samples from the “honeyhole,” designated as such because the samples were always within permissible limits. Each time samples were diluted or water was substituted, Shelton allowed excessive pollutants to be discharged from mining operations into adjacent creeks and rivers.

Shelton also admitted that from 2008-2013, he and other Appalachian Laboratories employees failed to place samples on ice as required by law, and instead kept them in their trucks all day, comprising the integrity of the samples. To avoid detection by WVDEP, Shelton and other employees placed ice in their coolers on known inspection days to make it appear as though this was their regular practice.

Shelton faces up to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of $250,000 when he is sentenced on February 26, 2015.

The investigation is being conducted jointly by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Environmental Protection Agency’s Criminal Investigation Division. Assistant United States Attorneys Blaire L. Malkin and Larry R. Ellis are responsible for the prosecution.

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