Billionaire Sued Again for Unpaid Bills

CHARLESTON (AP) – A coal mine equipment maker and seven companies owned by West Virginia billionaire Jim Justice are involved in a legal dispute over payments.

Beckley-based Phillips Machine Services, which also rebuilds mine equipment, sued the Justice-owned companies last month in Raleigh County Circuit Court. Phillips and a Kentucky-based subsidiary, The Combs Group, allege that the companies owe them $1.1 million.

Justice filed a counter-suit on Friday seeking $7.5 million from the plaintiffs.

“It just involves services that we felt they should have done that they didn’t do,” Justice said. “This is a dispute with, in all honesty, good friends, because we think a lot of these people.”

An attorney representing Phillips, Marc Weintraub, said that his client has no comment.

An Associated Press review of court records earlier this year found that since the beginning of 2012, there have been at least five lawsuits – one in federal court – that seek unpaid bills in the three Kentucky counties where Justice has mining operations. Two more actions in Tennessee federal court and two in Wise County, Va., filed since August of 2011 also sought unpaid bills or debts owed as part of a contract.

Justice said most of these lawsuits have been settled.

“For the most part we have cleaned up almost 100 percent of that, we’re still in this terrible coal business, everybody’s just struggling along and doing the best we can,” he said.

Among the largest of the bills that Phillips says it is owed is $270,000 for rebuilding two shuttle cars.

“Everybody will always get paid,” Justice said. “But I’m running 81 companies now and you can’t commingle everything that they do. You may have an agriculture company doing really good, but you can’t run ag funds over here with XYZ and move XYZ to ABC.”

In 2009, he sold the company’s West Virginia coal operations to Russian steel firm Mechel for a reported $436 million and another $240 million in Mechel shares. That same year Justice closed on a $20 million deal to buy The Greenbrier, which has hosted U.S. presidents and royalty.