Convicted former Massey Energy official David Hughart said in federal court Thursday the company’s practice to warn personnel when mine inspectors arrived at a mining site came from the top of the company.
When U.S. District Judge Irene Berger asked Hughart to be more specific he said, “The chief executive officer.”
Hughart did not mention former Massey CEO Don Blankenship by name. Blankenship’s attorney has issued a statement denying any wrongdoing saying they were not concerned about Hughart’s recollections.
Hughart, 53, from Crab Orchard pleaded guilty to two federal charges. He is the highest ranking Massey official to be charged as part of an ongoing investigation focused on Massey’s safety practices.
The investigation started with the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster, a massive coal dust explosion that claimed the lives of 29 coal miners in Raleigh County.
Hughart did not directly oversee operations at UBB.
Hughart’s wife Karen Hughart says covering up was a common practice at Massey and her husband was threatened if he didn’t go along.
‘He’s a man of integrity and dignity and he was threatened numerous times to lose his job if he didn’t answer correctly,” she said after Thursday’s hearing.
David Hughart is a former president of Massey’s Green Valley Resource Group in Nicholas County.
He has admitted that, when he was in charge, he and other Massey workers violated health and safety laws and hid those violations by warning mine workers when inspectors with the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration arrived on site.
“Mine safety and health laws are not optional,” Booth Goodwin, the U.S. Attorney for West Virginia’s Southern District, said in a statement on Thursday.
“This prosecution reiterates the message that mine safety violations are very serious crimes.”
Hughart faces up to six years in prison and a $350,000 fine when he’s sentenced on June 25th.
Goodwin says Hughart may be the most senior executive ever convicted of conspiracy to impede MSHA or conspiracy to violate mine health and safety standards.
Alpha Natural Resources acquired Massey Energy’s operations in 2011, more than a year after the UBB Disaster.
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 pleaded guilty to lying about being a foreman when he acted as one at UBB.