The U.S. Attorney for southern West Virginia, Booth Goodwin, announced Sept. 10 that a longtime Massey Energy executive was sentenced to 42 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release for two federal crimes in connection with an ongoing investigation of mine safety practices at Massey.
Massey itself disappeared in a June 2011 takeover by Alpha Natural Resources (NYSE: ANR). This federal probe was triggered by a 2010 fatal blast at Massey’s Upper Big Branch deep mine in southern West Virginia, which killed 29 miners.
David Hughart, 54, of Crab Orchard, W.Va,, is the former president of Massey’s Green Valley Resource Group and the highest-ranking official to be convicted in the ongoing federal investigation. Hughart’s sentence is one year above the top of federal advisory guidelines range. Hughart pleaded guilty in February to two federal charges: conspiracy to impede the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and conspiracy to violate mine health and safety laws.
“Mine safety laws exist to protect the health and safety of coal miners. When those laws are broken, miners’ lives are put in danger. That’s absolutely intolerable,” said Goodwin. “This prosecution reiterates the message that mine safety laws are never, ever optional.”
Hughart admitted that he and others at Massey conspired to violate health and safety laws and to conceal those violations by warning mining operations when MSHA inspectors were arriving to conduct mine inspections, Goodwin said. Hughart is the highest-ranking mine official ever convicted of conspiracy to impede MSHA or conspiracy to violate mine health and safety standards.
Goodwin’s statement noted that Alpha Natural Resources is continuing to cooperate with the investigation. The Hughart sentence was handed down by Judge Irene Berger in the U.S. District Court in Beckley, W.Va.
Former Upper Big Branch mine superintendent Gary May was sentenced Jan. 17 to 21 months in prison in connection with the federal investigation of the April 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners. May admitted that he and others conspired to impede MSHA in administering and enforcing mine health and safety laws at the mine. He acknowledged giving advance warning to underground workers of MSHA inspections, often using code phrases to avoid detection. May also admitted to concealing health and safety violations when he knew inspections were imminent.