Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Ex-official gets 3½ years for long conspiracy to hide coal-mine safety violations: 'common practice'

"A former longtime Massey Energy official will spend three and a half years in prison for his admitted role in a decade-long conspiracy to hide safety violations from federal safety inspectors," Ken Ward Jr. reports for The Charleston Gazette: "David C. Hughart was sentenced Tuesday afternoon to 42 months in jail and three years of supervised release after he pleaded guilty to two federal charges as part of an ongoing federal probe of Massey's safety practices." Hughart told U.S. District Judge Irene Berger, "It was very common practice." (Image from WOAY-TV)

The probe, which started with the deaths of 29 miners on April 5, 2010, in an explosion at Massey's Upper Big Branch Mine, has prompted four convictions, Ward writes. "Hughart is cooperating with prosecutors, having pleaded guilty to one felony count of conspiracy to defraud the government by thwarting U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration inspections and one misdemeanor count of conspiracy to violate MSHA standards. During a plea hearing in February, Hughart had implicated former Massey CEO Don Blankenship in the conspiracy, and Hughart's family has said Hughart is being wrongly scapegoated while Blankenship and other top Massey executives have faced no criminal charges. Blankenship has denied any wrongdoing." Massey no longer exists; it was bought by Alpha Natural Resources.

Former miner Thomas Harrah "was sentenced to 10 months in jail after he admitted to faking a foreman's license when he performed key mine-safety examinations at the mine between January 2008 and August 2009, and then lied to investigators about his actions," Ward writes. Former Upper Big Branch security director Hughie Elbert Stover was sentenced to 36 months in jail after he "was convicted of two felonies: making a false statement and obstructing the government probe of the mine disaster." And in January, former Upper Big Branch superintendent Gary May was sentenced to 21 months in jail and a $20,000 fine after he pleaded guilty to plotting to skirt safety rules and cover up the resulting hazards. (Read more)

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