Former Massey exec in trouble before sentencing

September 8, 2013

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A former Massey Energy executive cooperating in the investigation of the Upper Big Branch mine disaster and awaiting sentencing for conspiracy has been arrested on drug charges.

David C. Hughart now faces a bond-revocation hearing with a federal magistrate in Beckley shortly before his sentencing hearing Tuesday with U.S. District Judge Irene Berger.

Court documents show a warrant for his arrest was issued Thursday after probation officer Amy Berry-Richmond informed the court that Hughart had been caught in Beckley on Aug. 30 and charged with possession of the painkiller oxycodone and the anti-anxiety drug alprazolam. She said he lacked a prescription for either.

The Charleston Gazette (http://bit.ly/1cPIa8f) first reported the arrest Friday.

Hughart admitted conspiring with others to give miners at Massey subsidiary White Buck Coal Co. illegal advance warning about surprise inspections before he was fired in March 2010. Court documents show he’d failed a random drug test.

Hughart never worked at Upper Big Branch, where 29 miners died in an April 2010 explosion, but he implicated former Massey CEO Don Blankenship in the advance-warning scheme at his February plea hearing.

Massey is now owned by Virginia-based Alpha Natural Resources, and Blankenship has denied any wrongdoing.

Hughart faces up to six years in prison and a fine of up to $350,000 on the conspiracy charge.

Upper Big Branch was the worst U.S. coal mining disaster in 40 years.

Four investigations found that worn and broken cutting equipment created a spark that ignited accumulations of coal dust and methane gas. Broken and clogged water sprayers allowed what should have been a minor flare-up to become an inferno.

The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration said the root cause was Massey’s “systematic, intentional and aggressive efforts” to conceal life-threatening problems. Managers even maintained two sets of pre-shift inspection books — an accurate one for themselves, and a sanitized one for regulators.

Former superintendent Gary May and security chief Hughie Elbert Stover are behind bars for their actions at the mine.

Information from: The Charleston Gazette, http://www.wvgazette.com