Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Charges Filed in W.Va. Mine Disaster Massey Ex-Executive Expected to Enter Guilty Pleas to Federal Counts

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Charges Filed in W.Va. Mine Disaster Massey Ex-Executive Expected to Enter Guilty Pleas to Federal Counts

Article excerpt

A former key executive of the company that owned the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia where 29 miners were killed in an underground explosion in 2010 has been charged with violating mine safety laws and conspiring to impede federal mine inspectors.

David Hughart, 53, of Crab Orchard, W.Va., former president of Massey Energy Co.'s Green Valley Resource Group, was charged Wednesday in federal district court in Beckley, W.Va.

Federal prosecutors said Mr. Hughart, the highest-ranking official charged to date in an ongoing investigation, has agreed to plead guilty and is cooperating with the investigation spurred by the Upper Big Branch tragedy, the nation's worst mining disaster in four decades.

Mr. Hughart's plea agreement may indicate prosecutors are targeting officials higher on the Massey executive chain, possibly including controversial former CEO Don Blankenship, whose critics said valued profits at the expense of safety. He retired at the close of 2010. His Washington, D.C., attorney was unavailable for comment Wednesday.

Four investigations into the Upper Big Branch disaster concluded that poorly maintained machines used to cut into sandstone caused a spark that ignited methane gas. Broken water sprayers then failed to stop the fire, which set off a series of explosions fueled by coal dust.

Those investigations concluded that Massey systematically covered up problems at the mine through an elaborate scheme that included sanitized safety-inspection books and a system providing advance warnings of surprise inspections by federal mine safety officials.

The wide-ranging probe of Massey has found that the company's actions that compromised safety weren't confined to Upper Big Branch.

"Mine safety and health laws were routinely violated [at coal mines] owned by Massey in part because of a belief that consistently following [mine safety] laws would decrease coal production," according to the information filed against Mr. Hughart.

Authorities accuse Mr. Hughart of working with "known and unknown" co-conspirators to ensure that miners underground at Massey- owned operations received advance warning about surprise federal inspections "on many occasions and various dates" between 2000 and March 2010. …

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