A judge has sentenced to prison a former manager of the company that ran the Upper Big Branch mine where 29 miners died on April 5, 2010.
David Hughart, a longtime Massey Energy official, pleaded guilty to two federal charges:
- one felony count of conspiracy to defraud the government by thwarting MSHA inspections, and
- one misdemeanor count of conspiracy to violate MSHA standards.
He was sentenced to 42 months (3.5 years) in jail and three years of supervised release. The judge ordered Hughart to serve a year more than the recommended maximum of 30 months to account for the safety risks his crimes created and to warn other mining officials not to put production before safety.
Hughart didn’t work at the Upper Big Branch mine. His plea involves crimes at Massey’s White Buck mine. Prosecutors alleged mine safety and health laws were routinely violated at White Buck. Among the standards violated were ones regarding mine ventilation and control of explosive dust.
Here’s the link to Upper Big Branch: Investigators say those same standards were also violated there. The ventilation and dust problems led to a small methane ignition at Upper Big Branch that turned into the huge explosion that killed the 29 miners.
Also, Hughart is cooperating with federal prosecutors. He has implicated former Massey CEO Don Blankenship in the conspiracy to thwart MSHA inspections.
Blankenship hasn’t been charged by federal authorities yet, but the investigation continues.
Three other former Massey employees have been sentenced:
- former miner Thomas Harrah was sentenced to 10 months in jail after he admitted faking a foreman’s license when he performed safety examinations at Upper Big Branch
- former Upper Big Branch security director Hughie Stover was sentenced to 36 months in prison after being convicted of two felonies: making a false statement and obstructing the government’s probe, and
- former Upper Big Branch superintendent Gary May was sentenced to 21 months in jail and a $20,000 fine after pleading guilty to plotting to skirt safety rules and cover up hazards.