Cumberland Times-News

Local News

September 10, 2013

Ex-Massey official gets 3 1/2 years in conspiracy

BECKLEY, W.Va. — A former Massey Energy executive who admitted he conspired in an illegal advance-warning scheme at West Virginia coal mines was ordered Tuesday to spend 3 1/2 years behind bars for his role in undermining both federal safety laws and the inspectors charged with enforcing them.

U.S. District Judge Irene Berger sentenced former White Buck Coal Co. president David Hughart on conspiracy charges that grew out of a criminal investigation into the 2010 Upper Big Branch mine disaster. She also ordered him to serve three years’ probation when he finishes his sentence. White Buck was a Massey subsidiary.

“I’m sorry for what I’ve done in the past. I let it happen,” Hughart told the judge. “It was very common practice.”

Though Hughart never worked at Upper Big Branch, he is cooperating in an ongoing Department of Justice probe of the explosion that killed 29 men. Two other men, former Upper Big Branch security chief Hughie Elbert Stover and former superintendent Gary May, are already behind bars for their actions at the now-sealed mine near Montcoal.

Hughart’s cooperation signals that federal prosecutors may be working their way up Massey’s corporate ladder, though they have steadfastly refused to comment on their possible targets.

“He was part of a larger conspiracy, and that is of significant concern to us,” said U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin. “This practice could not have occurred alone. And we’re going to take this investigation wherever it leads, and we’re going to make longstanding change in the safety of our coal mines.”

Hughart has admitted his role in ensuring that miners at other Massey subsidiaries got illegal advance warning of surprise safety inspections, and he implicated Massey CEO Don Blankenship in the conspiracy during his plea hearing earlier this year.

Several investigations found miners at Upper Big Branch routinely got illegal advance warnings, giving them time to temporarily fix or disguise potentially deadly conditions underground.  

Massey is now owned by Virginia-based Alpha Natural Resources. Blankenship, who retired ahead of the merger, denies any wrongdoing.

Hughart, shackled at the ankles and wearing an orange jumpsuit, did not mention Blankenship when he spoke to the court Tuesday.

Hughart was fired from White Buck a month before the Upper Big Branch blast after failing a random drug test.

He’d been in court earlier Tuesday for a bond-revocation hearing following a recent arrest on drug charges. Federal probation officials said he was caught Aug. 30 in Beckley with the painkiller oxycodone and the anti-anxiety drug alprazolam, but he had no prescription for either.

He did not contest the drug charges in court. Magistrate Clarke VanDervort revoked Hughart’s $10,000 bond, and Hughart was turned over to U.S. marshals after his sentencing.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby acknowledged the drug offenses could affect Hughart’s credibility as a witness as the government builds its case.

Gary Quarles, whose son Gary Wayne died at Upper Big Branch, said that whether advance warning was common practice or not, Hughart knew it was illegal and should have stopped it.

But rather than watch people go to jail for that, Quarles wants to see indictments of the Massey executives directly responsible for conditions at his son’s mine.

“I still got my hopes,” he said after the sentencing. “I’m willing to wait, as long as it takes. And then slam the door on it.”

Jonathan Hughart, 32, said the wrong man was in the courtroom.

“It should be Don Blankenship,” he said. “Don Blankenship was a very strong influence on my father. He was always in fear of losing his job.”

1
Text Only
Local News
  • Easter experience Easter experience

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Game on: City interested in baseball study

    After it looked like the objection of a couple of constituents to a study on the feasibility of bringing a minor league baseball team to the area may have torpedoed the thought, county commissioners and some city officials sounded ready to sing a chorus of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” on Thursday.

    April 18, 2014

  • DEREK SHEELY Charges against helmet maker stand in case of Frostburg player’s death

    A Montgomery County judge this week declined to dismiss charges against a helmet manufacturer in a case brought by the parents of a Frostburg State University football player who died of head injuries in August 2011 following four straight days of heavy contact drills in practice.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • GAYLE MANCHIN W.Va. BOE president speaks on issues at WVSDB

    West Virginia Board of Education President Gayle Manchin responded to issues at the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and the Blind during an interview with the Times-News Wednesday morning.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • REGINALD REDMAN Moorefield man jailed on felony drug count

    A Moorefield man was arrested on various charges Thursday, including a felony drug offense for possession of amphetamines, according to the Keyser Police Department.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Blossoming optimism Blossoming optimism

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Cemetery group’s efforts revive Oak Hill grounds Cemetery group’s efforts revive Oak Hill grounds

    After you drive Alexander and Furnace streets then navigate a couple of switchbacks on Cemetery Road, you’d figure there would be no more uphill.

    April 17, 2014 2 Photos

  • Proposed county budget holds most agencies flat

    After taking into account an income tax shortfall, Allegany County Finance Director Jason Bennett said he’ll propose a budget that holds most outside agencies to flat funding and funds the Board of Education at what county officials say are maintenence of effort levels for 2015.

    April 17, 2014

  • RYAN WOLF Wolf named 2014-15 Garrett Teacher of the Year

    Southern Garrett High School teacher Ryan Wolf has been named the 2014-15 Garrett County Teacher of the Year.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • Rep. Delaney discusses congressional gridlock Rep. Delaney discusses congressional gridlock

    While giving a civics lesson at Frostburg State University on Thursday, U.S. Rep. John Delaney, congressman from Maryland’s sixth district, told students that the polarization in Congress is due primarily to redistricting and a poorly designed Congressional schedule.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

Facebook
Must Read
News related video
Ceremony Marks 19th Anniversary of OKC Bombing Raw: Fire Destroys 3 N.J. Beachfront Homes Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station Man Charged in Kansas City Highway Shootings Obama Awards Navy Football Trophy Ceremony at MIT Remembers One of Boston's Finest Raw: Students Hurt in Colo. School Bus Crash Raw: Church Tries for Record With Chalk Jesus Police Arrest Suspect in Highway Shootings Drought Concerns May Hurt Lake Tourism Vermont Goat Meat Gives Refugees Taste of Home Calif. Investigators Re-construct Fatal Bus Cras Appellate Court Hears Okla. Gay Marriage Case Horseless Carriage Introduced at NY Auto Show Chelsea Clinton Is Pregnant Beau Biden Plans 2016 Run for Del. Governor Flamingo Frenzy Ahead of Zoo Construction Obama: 8 Million Healthcare Signups Obama Hopeful on Ukraine, Will Watch Russians U.S. Sending Nonlethal Aid to Ukraine Military