A former Massey Energy coal company official has agreed to plead guilty to federal charges stemming from safety violations at mines he operated.
The charges against David C. Hughart, the former President of Massey’s Green Valley Resource Group, are a result of the ongoing investigation into the 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine that killed 29 miners.
U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin says Hughart will plead guilty to a felony count of conspiracy to defraud the United States and a misdemeanor charge of conspiracy. He faces up to six years in prison.
You can read the information from the U.S. Attorney’s Office here.
Goodwin says Hughart, 53, from Crab Orchard was not responsible for operations at UBB, but the probe into the disaster there led them to Hughart, who has agreed to cooperate with the investigation. Hughart is the fourth person, and the highest ranking Massey official so far, to be charged in connection with the UBB investigation.
“This is a significant step forward,” Goodwin told MetroNews. “This is not the end of the investigation.”
According to federal documents, Hughart operated Massey Energy subsidiary mines in Nicholas County that routinely violated health and safety laws “because of a belief that consistently following those laws would decrease coal production.”
Additionally, Hughart was responsible for illegal advance warnings at his mines when federal Mine Safety and Health Administration inspectors arrived. According to the federal document charging Hughart, “If these routine mine health and safety violations were detected by MSHA, the resulting citations and orders could result in coal production being stopped.”
Goodwin says it was a case of putting production ahead of safety.
“He wasn’t acting alone,” Goodwin said on Wednesday’s MetroNews Talkline. “The very nature of the conspiracy is that he acted in concert with other individuals, not just at Green Valley, but at other coal operations in Massey Energy.”
Federal investigators have been probing Massey operations since the April 2010 disaster at UBB. An MSHA investigation released last year found that flagrant safety violations contributed to a massive coal dust explosion that killed the miners.
Former UBB Mine Superintendent Gary May and the former head of security at the mine, Hughie Elbert Stover, have both been convicted of charges stemming from the disaster. A former UBB worker, Thomas Harrah, has also plead guilty to lying about being a foreman when he acted as one at UBB.
Additionally, Alpha Natural Resources, which bought out Massey after the disaster, has reached a $209 million dollar settlement in the case.
The UBB mine, located in Raleigh County, is permanently closed.
The above picture is of U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin.