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May 14, 2010 5:21 PM by David Ortiviz, News First 5

Justice Dept. confirms criminal probe of mine explosion

The Justice Department is investigating whether there was "willful criminal activity" by the company that operates the West Virginia mine where 29 workers died in an accident last month.

The U.S. attorney's office for the Southern District of West Virginia says in a letter that investigators are looking into the actions by the mine's operator, Performance Coal, its directors, officers and agents.

The letter, obtained by The Associated Press, asks the Labor Department to hold off pursuing dozens of civil cases against Performance Coal for mine safety violations.

Performance Coal is a subsidiary of Massey Energy Co., which owns the Upper Big Branch mine. Last month, federal law enforcement officials said the FBI has interviewed nearly two dozen current and former employees of Massey in the probe.

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