Federal attorneys are asking a judge to hold Gov. Jim Justice and his son, Jay Justice, personally liable for $1.23 million in court-ordered sanctions against Justice Energy Co.
U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart on Wednesday filed a motion in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia asking Judge Irene Berger to order that the father and son should be held accountable for and ordered to pay the sanctions.
The request, legally referred to as "piercing the corporate veil," comes after an investigation found Justice Energy Co. was "a shell corporation with no independent and separate corporate existence," Stuart wrote in a memo accompanying his motion.
"The company owns virtually nothing, pays for virtually nothing, and diverts its revenues to other entities," Stuart said. " It is just a shell through which other Justice coal entities operate as determined by the decisions of James C. Justice II and James C. Justice III.
Stuart outlined the organizational flow of the companies within Justice Energy Co., which he said has a single bank account "used to pay its few employees, but that account is funded by Bluestone Resources." Justice Energy Co. does not provide funds for the account, Stuart said.
He said Gov. Justice and Jay Justice simply use the Justice Energy Co. as a shell corporation to shield themselves from liability for their personal decisions and actions taken through the subsidiary companies.
"The Justices have the ultimate decision-making authority over all of the activities of these entities, and their decisions led to the imposition of the civil contempt sanction imposed by the Court in this case," Stuart said. "They are the alter egos of [Justice Energy Co.] and should be held accountable for the civil contempt sanction assessed against [Justice Energy Co.]"
In January, Berger ordered the company to release its financial information to federal prosecutors and make its employees available for depositions after prosecutors indicated that Justice Energy Co. might not have the means to pay its $1.23 million in court-ordered sanctions.
In December, federal prosecutors stated in court documents that no payment had been made by the defendant to satisfy the civil contempt sanction imposed by the court in 2016.
The court ordered the $1.23 million payment in a civil contempt judgment against Justice Energy in February 2016. Justice Energy Company appealed the ruling. The ruling was upheld by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in July 2017.
James River Equipment Virginia filed its original complaint in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of West Virginia in November 2013, alleging a breach of contract and unjust enrichment for services and equipment provided to Justice Energy Company worth less than $150,000.
The two companies worked out a payment plan for Justice Energy to pay James River Equipment Virginia a total of $180,000, spread over six months. The contempt charge stems, in part, from failures to meet those monthly payments.
Berger issued the $1.23 million fine to Justice Energy after it failed to respond for 41 days to her order holding the company in contempt. The $1.23 million fine represents a fine of $30,000 per day that the company was in contempt.
Mechel OAO, a Russian energy company, took on the original debt from James River Equipment Virginia.
Justice sold many of his mining interests to Mechel OAO in 2009 for $568 million in cash and stock. He bought them back in February 2015 for $5 million, also taking on $130 million of its debt.