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Westlake Legal Group > Mines and Mining

Miners Kill Indigenous Leader in Brazil During Invasion of Protected Land

Westlake Legal Group Brazil-Indigenous-facebookJumbo Miners Kill Indigenous Leader in Brazil During Invasion of Protected Land Politics and Government Murders, Attempted Murders and Homicides Mines and Mining Indigenous People Deaths (Fatalities) Brazil Bolsonaro, Jair (1955- )

RIO DE JANEIRO — Several dozen heavily armed miners dressed in military fatigues invaded an indigenous village in remote northern Brazil this week and fatally stabbed at least one of the community’s leaders, officials said Saturday.

The killing comes as miners and loggers are making increasingly bold and defiant incursions into protected areas, including indigenous territories, with the explicit encouragement of Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro. Officials warned the conflict could escalate in the coming hours.

Mr. Bolsonaro has said that indigenous communities are in control of vast territories that should be opened up to industries to make them profitable.

Land invasions in indigenous territories are on the rise across Brazil, where indigenous leaders say they regularly come under threat by miners, loggers and farmers. Yet assassinations of indigenous leaders are rare.

Leaders of the Wajãpi indigenous community made urgent pleas to the federal government on Saturday, warning that the conflict between the miners and members of their community who live in remote villages in the northern state of Amapá risked turning into a blood bath.

“They are armed with rifles and other weapons,” Jawaruwa Waiãpi, a leader of the community, said in a voice message sent to one of the state’s senators, referring to the miners. “We are in danger. You need to send the army to stop them.”

It was not immediately clear when the killing took place.

Rodolfe Rodrigues, the senator, said Saturday night that residents of the village that had been invaded had fled. Citing local accounts, he said there was concern in the area that men from the tribe would return to the village to try to reclaim it.

“There is significant risk that the conflict will escalate in the coming hours,” Mr. Rodrigues said in a phone interview. “The Indians are going to retaliate.”

Mr. Rodrigues, who belongs to an opposition party, said Mr. Bolsonaro’s views on indigenous territories and the rights of native communities had put the descendants of Brazil’s original inhabitants in mortal danger.

“The president is responsible for this death,” he said.

A representative for the president declined to comment on Saturday night.

Mr. Rodrigues identified the slain indigenous leader as Emyra Wajãpi. He said the miners tossed his body in a river after stabbing him to death.

On Saturday night, an elite police force was en route to the area. The National Indian Foundation, a federal agency that was created to protect indigenous rights, said Saturday that its personnel in the area were trying to ascertain the facts surrounding the killing.

The Wajãpi, who have lived for centuries in the area that straddles northern Brazil and French Guiana, lived in isolation until the 1970s, when the Brazilian government built a road that made their areas accessible to miners and other outsiders.

Their territory was designated a protected area in 1996 as part of the process established by Brazil’s 1988 Constitution. That charter, which was adopted after a 21-year period of military rule, set out to make amends for the brutality indigenous communities had endured since Europeans arrived on the continent in the 1400s.

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A Plan to Mine the Minnesota Wilderness Hit a Dead End. Then Trump Became President.

ELY, Minn. — In the waning months of the Obama administration, a Chilean conglomerate was losing a fight with the United States government over a copper mine that it wanted to build near a pristine wilderness area in Minnesota.

The election of President Trump, with his business-friendly bent, turned out to be a game-changer for the project.

Beginning in the early weeks of Mr. Trump’s presidency, the administration worked at a high level to remove roadblocks to the proposed mine, government emails and calendars show, overruling concerns that it could harm the Boundary Waters, a vast landscape of federally protected lakes and forests along the border with Canada.

Executives with the mining company, Antofagasta, discussed the project with senior administration officials, including the White House’s top energy adviser, the emails show. Even before an interior secretary was appointed to the new administration, the department moved to re-examine leases critical to the mine, eventually restoring those that the Obama administration had declined to renew. And the Forest Service called off an environmental review that could have restricted mining, even though the agriculture secretary had told Congress that the review would proceed.

An Interior Department spokesman said it simply worked to rectify “a flawed decision rushed out the door” before Mr. Trump took office. Several senior department officials with previous administrations, however, said they were surprised by the swift change of course for the little-known Minnesota project, which was not a focal point of Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign.

For the family of the billionaire Andrónico Luksic, which controls the Chilean conglomerate, the policy reversals could provide a big boost to its mining business. Since the change in administration, the Antofagasta subsidiary Twin Metals Minnesota has significantly ramped up its lobbying in Washington, according to federal disclosures, spending $900,000.

ImageWestlake Legal Group 00CLI-HOUSE-luksic-articleLarge A Plan to Mine the Minnesota Wilderness Hit a Dead End. Then Trump Became President. Zinke, Ryan (1961- ) Wilderness Areas Wetlands washington dc United States Politics and Government Trump, Ivanka Trump, Donald J Tidwell, Thomas L Renting and Leasing (Real Estate) Minnesota Mines and Mining Lobbying and Lobbyists Kushner, Jared Kushner, Charles Interior Department Greenhouse Gas Emissions Global Warming Forests and Forestry Forest Service environment Chile Carbon Dioxide Banco de Chile Bachelet, Michelle Appointments and Executive Changes

Andrónico Luksic’s plan for a copper mine in Minnesota was blocked by President Barack Obama. His fortunes have since shifted.CreditMartin Bernetti/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Ivanka Trump, left, and Jared Kushner, second from left, two of the president’s closest advisers.CreditAlex Wong/Getty Images

But the mining project’s breakthrough, already unpopular with environmentalists, has drawn additional scrutiny and criticism because of an unusual connection between Mr. Luksic and two of Mr. Trump’s family members.

Just before Mr. Trump took office, Mr. Luksic added a personal investment to his portfolio: a $5.5 million house in Washington. Mr. Luksic bought the house with the intention of renting it to a wealthy new arrival to Mr. Trump’s Washington, according to Rodrigo Terré, chairman of Mr. Luksic’s family investment office, which handled the purchase.

The idea worked. Even before the purchase was final, real estate agents had lined up renters: Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.

The rental arrangement has been a point of concern for ethics experts and groups opposed to mining near the Boundary Waters, and has focused national attention, particularly among some Democrats in Congress, on an otherwise local debate.

The Wall Street Journal first reported about the house in March 2017. At that time, Twin Metals was suing the federal government over the mining leases, but the Trump administration’s direction on the mine since then had only begun to take shape.

In recent months, the scrutiny has grown. In March, Representative Raúl M. Grijalva, the Arizona Democrat who is chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, wrote a letter with other lawmakers to the interior and agriculture secretaries raising significant concerns about the proposed mine.

The letter said the two departments’ actions “blatantly ignored scientific and economic evidence.” It also mentioned the “interesting coincidence” surrounding the rental of the Luksic house to Mr. Trump’s relatives. Separately, a group in Minnesota opposed to the mining, Save the Boundary Waters, has called the rental arrangement “deeply troubling” and has seized on it to cast doubt on the administration’s actions.

The White House and representatives for the couple declined to answer questions about whether the rental deal had been reviewed by ethics officials. “Both Mr. Kushner and Ms. Trump follow the ethics advice they received when they entered government service,” said Peter Mirijanian, a spokesman for Mr. Kushner’s lawyer, Abbe Lowell.

Mr. Terré called the lease a simple real estate transaction that happened to involve the incoming president’s family. “I do not believe there was anything unethical or inappropriate about this business transaction,” he said.

Both Mr. Mirijanian and Mr. Terré said the rental was not related to the Minnesota mine. “There is no correlation in any way,” Mr. Mirijanian said. They were “two entirely unrelated matters” and tying them together was “based on unfounded rumors and speculation,” Mr. Terré said.

An Interior Department spokeswoman said that neither Mr. Kushner nor Ms. Trump been involved in discussions about the mine.

Nonetheless, several ethics experts said they would have cautioned Mr. Kushner and Ms. Trump against renting the home, given the Luksic family’s business before the administration.

“There may be nothing wrong,” said Arthur Andrew Lopez, a federal government ethics official for two decades who is now a professor at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business. “But it doesn’t look good.”

Antofagasta hopes to mine on the edge of the Boundary Waters, which encompasses more than a million acres of lakes and forest.CreditTim Gruber for The New York Times

The Boundary Waters hold a special place in American geography: More than a million acres of lakes and forests provide a rich habitat for thousands of species, including the gray wolf and Canada lynx. But below the surface and beyond lies richness of another sort, an estimated four billion tons of copper and nickel ore — believed to be one of the world’s largest undeveloped mineral deposits.

The mining giant controlled by the Luksic family, Antofagasta, took full control of the project in 2015, and its executives have called it the company’s “most advanced international opportunity.” Antofagasta, which is publicly traded in London, is poised to benefit from the growing use of copper in renewable-energy technologies like wind and solar. It lists Mr. Luksic as a board member, and his younger brother, Jean-Paul Luksic, as chairman.

The company has spent more than $450 million so far on the project, run by the subsidiary, Twin Metals Minnesota. It says the project will generate hundreds of mining jobs.

The promise of employment resonates in Minnesota’s Iron Range, which has lost a quarter of its mining jobs since 2000. “The mining industry brings a tsunami effect for the community with regard to jobs, schools, everything,” said Andrea Zupancich, the mayor of Babbitt, a town of 1,500 near the proposed mine.

Antofagasta’s environmental record, however, has raised concerns. In Chile, the company’s Los Pelambres copper mine has suffered toxic spills, according to environmental groups. The company said the mine had experienced only “minor incidents involving limited spills” which were not toxic, and said it was proud of its environmental record.

In a 2016 analysis, Thomas Tidwell, who was then chief of the United States Forest Service, warned of risks to the Boundary Waters from the proposed Twin Metals mine, including the leaching of harmful metals. Mining, he concluded, risked “serious and irreplaceable harm to this unique, iconic, and irreplaceable wilderness.”

Twin Metals called the analysis “riddled with errors” and said “environmental risks will be properly managed.”

Still, the fears have divided nearby residents. “In the summer, we drink out of this water,” said Susan Schurke, who runs Wintergreen Northern Wear, an outdoor clothing company. “Once that’s tainted, it’s over. How can we risk that?”

When the Obama administration moved to block the project in 2016, Twin Metals sued. The company said in a statement then that the administration’s move threatened jobs and would “hinder access to one of the world’s largest sources of copper, nickel and platinum — resources of strategic importance to the U.S. economy and national defense.”

Just as the mining company’s hopes appeared to be on the ropes, it got a welcome surprise: Mr. Trump’s election, and the promise of a pro-industry agenda.

“In 100 years, this water is going to be far more valuable a resource here than copper,” Sullen Sack, a wilderness educator, said.CreditTim Gruber for The New York Times
A map of the Boundary Waters at Ely Outfitting Company in Ely, Minn.CreditTim Gruber for The New York Times The region has lost a quarter of its mining jobs since 2000.CreditTim Gruber for The New York Times

With a new administration on its way to Washington, Mr. Luksic contacted a real estate broker he knew for help with an investment idea: buying residential properties in Washington, including a luxury home, to rent out.

With the help of the broker, Rodrigo Valderrama, Mr. Luksic’s family investment office, which through corporate entities owns a portfolio of real estate in the United States, bought two condominiums in the capital. One was never rented and the other was later sold at a loss.

As for the luxury home, Mr. Valderrama spent weeks touring homes and alerting brokers that he had an interested client. One house he saw was on Tracy Place, in the Kalorama neighborhood, being handled by the real estate firm Washington Fine Properties.

Ms. Trump and Mr. Kushner were using the same firm for their hunt for a house to rent. With Mr. Kushner’s parents tagging along, they saw the six-bedroom, 7,000-square-foot Kalorama home as well.

In the space of a week, Mr. Luksic’s representatives agreed to buy the house and closed on the all-cash transaction, while their would-be tenants waited for the purchase to be complete.

The two sides, working through brokers, agreed on rent of $15,000 per month. Mr. Terré described it as being in the “high range” for the area, which some real estate agents confirmed. Still, that rent was significantly lower than what the couple had discussed paying for another more expensive house, according to interviews.

The home rented by Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump in the Kalorama neighborhood of Washington.CreditTom Brenner for The New York Times

Mr. Terré said both sides were aware of each others’ identities before the rental deal was finalized. “We disclosed our name and the name of my boss,” he said in a telephone interview. Mr. Mirijanian said the couple had decided to lease the home before knowing the landlord’s identity. He did not directly respond to questions about whether they learned of that identity before signing the lease.

Mr. Luksic has written on Twitter that he does not know Mr. Trump or any member of his family, and only met Mr. Trump briefly at a New England Patriots football game years ago. Mr. Terré said Mr. Luksic “has not had any interactions with the Trump White House.”

Critics of the Luksic family say they were suspicious of the Washington investments because of Mr. Luksic’s past in Chile, where he has faced claims of attempts to win favor with the family of a former Chilean president. The Luksic family, one of the world’s wealthiest, has interests spanning banking, manufacturing, energy, shipping and beer.

Mr. Luksic came under fire for meeting with the son and daughter-in-law of Michelle Bachelet, who was running to be president of Chile at the time, as they sought a $10 million loan for their company from Banco de Chile, which is controlled by the Luksic family conglomerate. After Ms. Bachelet’s 2013 election, the bank approved the loan.

A spokesman for Ms. Bachelet said an investigation into the meeting didn’t lead to any charges. Representatives for Mr. Luksic said that he never discussed the loan with Ms. Bachelet, and that regulators found “there was absolutely nothing irregular about the bank’s approval of the loan.”

The Trump administration’s efforts to smooth the way for Antofagasta’s mining ambitions began less than two weeks after the inauguration, when Interior Department officials began re-examining the leases, the government emails show.

The message from an early meeting, according to an attendee who spoke on condition of anonymity, was that officials should prepare for a change in direction.

Officials also made sure the incoming interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, not yet in the job, was briefed. In an email, one Interior Department official described that effort as a “fire drill.”

The administration’s efforts are documented in part in thousands of pages of government emails and calendars, many obtained through records requests by Louis V. Galdieri, a documentary filmmaker, and the Sierra Club, an environmental organization.

A key meeting occurred in early May, when Antofagasta’s chief executive, along with other executives and lobbyists, discussed the issue with the White House’s top adviser on domestic energy and the environment, Michael Catanzaro. The company said it wanted to reverse the Obama-era decisions, which it said were illegal and inflicted “undue damage.”

Rock core samples taken by Twin Metals as part of preparations for mining.CreditTim Gruber for The New York Times
Near the Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge outside Ely. Dogsledding in the Boundary Waters wilderness is popular in winter.CreditTim Gruber for The New York Times A slab of taconite iron ore, a major local industry in decades past, on display in Babbitt, Minn.CreditTim Gruber for The New York Times

The next month, Interior Department officials learned that the White House had “expressed interest in the Twin Metals matter,” according to an email sent by a department lawyer marked “TIME SENSITIVE.” Soon after, top interior appointees traveled to the Minnesota site.

That December, the department reversed course on denying the company’s leases, and Twin Metals withdrew its lawsuit. The Interior Department formally renewed the leases last month, with some restrictions.

Twin Metals scored another victory in September when the Forest Service cut short its mining-ban review. An agency spokesman said it had determined that neither the study nor a ban was needed.

A Twin Metals spokesman, David Ulrich, said the company’s outreach was part of a long-running effort to share its views with the federal government. Obama administration officials had also visited the mining site, he said.

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“We are confident that this world-class mineral resource can be developed safely and with a minimal impact to the environment,” he said in a statement.

The mine still faces a yearslong permitting and approval process. Engineers have been drilling boreholes and wells to study the region’s geology and water, and the company is preparing an operating plan.

“The last administration created some challenges,” Mr. Ulrich said during a tour of the site on the Boundary Waters’ edge. “But it was never not moving forward.”

On a trip to Minnesota in April, Mr. Trump was jubilant about the restoration of mining.

“Under the previous administration,” he said at a truck factory, “America’s rich natural resources were put under lock and key.” The changes since then, he said, were “really pretty amazing.”

Moonrise over Garden Lake, on the edge of the Boundary Waters in Minnesota.CreditTim Gruber for The New York Times

Reporting was contributed by Lisa Friedman in Washington, Jesse Drucker and Kate Kelly in New York, and Pascale Bonnefoy in Santiago, Chile. Kitty Bennett and Alain Delaquérière contributed research.

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They Were Promised Coding Jobs in Appalachia. Now They Say It Was a Fraud.

BECKLEY, W.Va. — On a spring day in 2017, Stephanie Frame sat down in her hilltop home deep in the mountain hollows to record a video.

She began with the litany of local decline: the vanishing jobs in the coal mines, the shuttering stores, the school that closed down. During one stretch of unemployment for her coal miner husband, the two had resorted to selling ramps, ginseng and yellowroot that they had dug up in the forest.

But this video, aimed at her neighbors, was an announcement: Redemption was here. A nonprofit called Mined Minds, promising to teach West Virginians how to write computer code and then get them good-paying jobs, was looking for recruits.

“I wholeheartedly believe, and will always believe,” Ms. Frame said to the camera, “that God has sent Mined Minds to us to save us from what could have been a very bleak future.”

She had every reason to believe. Joe Manchin III, her Democratic senator, had invited the group to come into the state. The National Guard hired it to teach at its military-style academy. County commissioners arranged space rent free. National news outlets gave glowing coverage.

Many West Virginians like Ms. Frame signed up for Mined Minds, quitting their jobs or dropping out of school for the prized prospect of a stable and lucrative career. But the revival never came.

Almost none of those who signed up for Mined Minds are working in programming now. They described Mined Minds as an erratic operation, where guarantees suddenly evaporated and firings seemed inevitable, leaving people to start over again at the bottom rungs of the wage jobs they had left behind.

Over two dozen former students in West Virginia are pursuing a lawsuit, arguing that Mined Minds was a fraud. Out of the 10 or so people who made it to the final weeks of Ms. Frame’s class in Beckley, only one formally graduated. He is now delivering takeout.

“It was a too-good-to-be-true kind of deal,” said Billyjack Buzzard, 33, who attended another class and was the only former West Virginia coal miner to finish classes and get a job with the program. He was fired after 14 months and went back underground. “Just false hope.”

Mined Minds came into Appalachia espousing a certain dogma, fostered in the world of start-ups and TED Talks, and carried with missionary zeal into places in dire need of economic salvation. The group was premised on the notion, as one grant proposal read, that “anyone can have a successful career in the technology industry,” and that if enough people did, the whole area would be transformed.

Amanda Laucher, one of the founders of Mined Minds, spoke at a tech conference in 2017 of the group’s ambitions, which were swiftly expanding. “Yeah, we helped a town, we actually made some small impact,” she said of Mined Minds’ early efforts. “But can we scale it and actually diversify the economy of an entire region?”

This would be an audacious goal even in the best of circumstances. But Mined Mines was operating with a limited amount of personal cash and public funding, and was mostly staffed by people who had spent little time in tech.

Ms. Laucher now acknowledges that while she is still committed to the group’s mission, the work has not been easy. “Progress is difficult,” she said in an email, “with the current atmosphere in Appalachia which is deeply interested in maintaining a ‘culture.’”

She blamed the opioid epidemic and “the poverty culture” of the region, mentioning “Hillbilly Elegy,” the best-selling memoir by J.D. Vance, who, like Ms. Laucher, went from working-class Rust Belt roots to success in the tech sector.

She added: “There are generations of hard work ahead. We’ll be only a tiny force working toward change in the area I grew up.”

None of this — neither the experience itself nor Ms. Laucher’s thoughts about its difficulties — strikes some former students as surprising. This is, they say, how things tend to go in Appalachia.

“I get angry at people who go to other places and say, ‘My culture is better than theirs and I am going to change it,’” said Katie Bolyard, 25, a college graduate who skipped her honeymoon to take a class.

She doesn’t know the motives of the people at Mined Minds, she said, whether they had bad intentions or were just “incredibly sloppy” with good ones. But intentions only matter so much. “It’s not your life you’re messing with.”

Before the founding of Mined Minds, Ms. Laucher and her husband, Jonathan Graham, were living in Chicago working as successful tech consultants. But in 2015, she learned that her younger brother, Marvin, had been laid off from a mine back in the coalfields of southwest Pennsylvania where she grew up.

He was stuck in the Appalachian dilemma: technologically savvy, as modern miners have to be, but stuck with few options. So Mr. Graham and Ms. Laucher quit their jobs and moved to Pennsylvania.

The model for Mined Mines, at least initially, was this: a free 16-week coding boot camp, followed by paid “apprenticeships” with the program’s for-profit arm, a software consultancy. Apprentices worked full-time on projects for company clients, but were also called upon to teach in the classes they had graduated from months earlier. After working for a few months, apprentices would either go on to salaried jobs at the Mined Minds company, or to a big tech firm such as Oracle.

“Every single one of them” finds work, Ms. Laucher said of the boot camp graduates, in a 2017 interview. “They all find a job.”

A guarantee like that was barely short of miraculous. Within two years, Mined Minds was one of the primary beneficiaries of a $1.5 million grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission. In August 2016, Mr. Manchin, who encouraged the couple to expand from Pennsylvania, said that Mr. Graham and Ms. Laucher “embody the spirit of West Virginia.”

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_152277552_3c329b01-caa9-4e11-aa36-e3db0379c70e-articleLarge They Were Promised Coding Jobs in Appalachia. Now They Say It Was a Fraud. Vocational Training Mines and Mining Manchin, Joe III Layoffs and Job Reductions Labor and Jobs Computers and the Internet Coal Appalachian Regional Commission Appalachian Region

Senator Joe Manchin III invited Mined Mines to come into the state.CreditAndrew Spear for The New York Times

In the spring of 2017, Tori Frame, Stephanie Frame’s daughter, was making $10 an hour as an assistant manager at a Family Dollar store when she learned about Mined Minds.

“I didn’t want to be stuck in Gauley Bridge, W.Va., my whole life working at Family Dollar,” said Tori, 23. “I wanted something different.”

Others viewed Mined Minds the same way. Andrew Farley figured he could quickly make the pay scale in coding that he made working for the railroad, but without having to leave his hometown; Chris Phelps, who washed dishes at a Cracker Barrel, thought a tech career was a way to get out of town.

Ty Cook, 29, a bank teller, saw something more, “something that would make me a worthwhile member of society.”

And there was an irresistible promise: They would be paid to take the class. Some were told this in an email by a state jobs counselor, others said they were told by Ms. Laucher. The counselor said in an email they would receive $10 an hour, with the potential for more as apprentices or when they were hired. A number of people, including Tori, quit their jobs. (Ms. Laucher has denied making any such promise.)

In late June 2017, a big crowd gathered in a classroom at a small college campus in Beckley. They met Marvin Laucher, Ms. Laucher’s brother, the former coal miner, now their main instructor. They also learned that they were not going to be paid. Some dropped out the first week.

But Tori and her mother, Stephanie, 45, stayed. Every weekday morning, Tori would wake up early, her mother would feed the chickens and together they would head down the serpentine mountain road to Beckley. Nights and weekends they spent in the glow of their laptops — bought from a website on credit — learning the rudiments of Ruby, the programming language.

“I didn’t want to be stuck in Gauley Bridge, W.Va., my whole life working at Family Dollar,” said Tori Frame, 23. “I wanted something different.”CreditAndrew Spear for The New York Times

There was never much of a syllabus; students would be given an assignment and spend the next few days trying to figure it out, mostly by themselves. The usual answer to questions, multiple students said, was “Google it.” A few quietly wondered how much their teachers really knew.

Unease began to settle in among some of the students. They began to learn from their teaching assistants, graduates of a recent Mined Minds class, that the good stable jobs promised by the group were not nearly as stable as they appeared.

Firings and resignations were routine among the staff. One of the Beckley teaching assistants, a 33-year-old named Maxx Turner, had already been fired, then rehired after several fruitless months of searching for programming work, he said. Some began to suspect that the program couldn’t afford the job guarantee it was advertising.

Money woes did not make sense, given what they saw of the founders’ lifestyle: the travels worldwide, the views from an office in Chicago’s Trump Tower, the ever-replenishing tequila bottles at the West Virginia headquarters, the boozy house parties in Pennsylvania.

Several former Mined Minds staff members described company gatherings the same way: Their bosses ordering seemingly endless shots, hectoring the more timid drinkers. “I thought by going out drinking with them I’d put myself in a better position,” said Michael Moore, 35, the other teaching assistant in Beckley, who dropped out of community college to take the program.

The promised 16-week class went on 17 weeks. Then 18, then 19. As the class continued, many students began to run out of money. Out of the more than two dozen students who began, about 10 were left by late October, some playing computer games in class to pass the time, just waiting for the final project before graduation.

Early on, Ms. Laucher had suggested the project would be something for the community, maybe a gaming app addressing the opioid epidemic. Then the project was finally announced: the design of a website for a pet bed-and-breakfast that Ms. Laucher’s mother was opening in Pennsylvania.

But Stephanie Frame was still a believer. When word spread of a trip by the Mined Minds leadership to a tech conference in Lithuania in November, she saw an opportunity. She had never been out of the country, but this was a way to lock in a job, for her and for her daughter. Her husband agreed to spend $1,000 on the trip.

“If I could hang with them,” she remembered thinking, “be one of them, show them how dedicated I am, how much I supported them, then we’ve got it.”

While Stephanie and others were in Lithuania, the rest of the class was debating whether to stick it out to graduation. A news station in Pennsylvania had reported on problems with the Mined Minds program there, including that nearly all the graduates of one class had been fired right after being hired as apprentices. The state of Pennsylvania ordered Mined Minds to cease operations for not having a license to run a school.

On a morning in late November, in the first class after the Lithuania conference, the students in Beckley arrived to a shocking development. Two people who had gone on the trip — Stephanie Frame and Mr. Moore, their teaching assistant — had been kicked out of the program.

In a video conference, Ms. Laucher told the class that Stephanie had been dismissed because of “extreme sexual harassment, lots of drunkenness, basically behaving in a way that we wouldn’t condone at Mined Minds.”

Stephanie was stunned. She thought the trip had been successful. She had gotten very drunk, she said, but no one on the trip had mentioned anything like “extreme sexual harassment.” Mr. Moore said he had seen nothing like the harassment Ms. Laucher described, and that in any case, everyone had been drunk.

He would later be told that he was being dismissed for being belligerent one night of the trip, and also of having a drug problem — a charge, he said, easily refuted by years of clean drug tests — including one for Mined Minds.

As Ms. Laucher shared the news, other students were angry, and suspicious.

“Even in the moment I’m hearing this I’m thinking, ‘O.K., this isn’t adding up,’” Mr. Phelps said.

Ms. Bolyard wondered whether Mined Minds simply couldn’t afford the apprenticeships. “They were just making excuses to get rid of people,” she said.

Tori’s parents told her to just finish the class, but she couldn’t. She sent a formal resignation letter, citing broken promises and a “party culture” that turned her off. Nearly all of the other students, infuriated by the whole thing, followed.

The shuttered Little Eagle Mine in Dixie.CreditAndrew Spear for The New York Times

Mined Minds has continued operating, holding new classes in Logan, another hard-luck coal town in West Virginia.

In mid-April of this year, Ms. Laucher reprimanded five employees for not making enough networking connections on LinkedIn, for neglecting to read a book she had assigned, “The Start-Up of You,” and for not submitting their résumés to her for help. The next day, all five were fired. The staff of the program in West Virginia, two of those former employees said, now consists of Ms. Laucher’s brother and sister.

And several weeks ago, Ms. Laucher announced on social media that she had been accepted to law school in Chicago.

Asked if this was the end of Mined Minds, Ms. Laucher wrote: “Absolutely not. Still going.”

Since the class in Beckley ended, Stephanie Frame has mostly stayed home.

As she recounted her experience with Mined Minds in her living room, her husband, Roger, just off work, sat down and listened. It’s always the same here, he finally said.

“They’re coming here promising stuff that they don’t deliver,” said Mr. Frame, his hands and face still gray with coal dust. “People do that all the time. They’ve always done it to Appalachians.”

He recalled the pittance his great-grandparents sold their mineral rights for, and what they got from it: the coal company tearing down mountains and building roads wherever it wanted. Timber, coal, oil and gas, “it repeats itself,” he said. “It’s like a never-ending cycle.”

Members of the Beckley class still keep in touch on a private chat group they call “Disenfranchised Appalachians.” Nearly everyone they had worked alongside has quit or been fired, though some said they had learned a lot from their work at Mined Minds. One, usually described as the program’s clear success, found a programming job in South Carolina.

Stephanie’s daughter Tori, who had begun dating Ty Cook from the class, went back to the Family Dollar, starting over as a cashier. Over the next year, she worked her way up to become manager, a promotion that, Ms. Laucher said in a recent deposition for the lawsuit, was evidence of “the logic and problem solving skills that came with Mined Minds training.”

A couple of months ago, however, Tori found a job at a call center in Columbus, Ohio. In late February, she and Mr. Cook packed their belongings in a trailer and left West Virginia.

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