Former Massey mine exec set to enter plea Jan. 16

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 12, 2012 at 2:17 pm •  Published: December 12, 2012

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — A former president of Massey Energy's White Buck Coal Co. will enter a plea on federal conspiracy charges in January as prosecutors continue to investigate the 2010 explosion at another Massey operation that killed 29 men.

David C. Hughart is set to appear Jan. 16 before U.S. District Judge Irene Berger in Beckley.

Hughart is cooperating in the continuing investigation of the Upper Big Branch mine disaster in Montcoal. The explosion at that Massey mine, now sealed but owned by Virginia-based Alpha Natural Resources, was the worst U.S. coal mine disaster in four decades.

Prosecutors say Hughart worked with unnamed co-conspirators to ensure miners at White Buck and other, unidentified Massey-owned operations, got advance warning about surprise federal inspections many times between 2000 and March 2010.

They say that gave workers time to conceal life-threatening violations that could have led to citations and shutdowns.

Hughart faces two charges: felony conspiracy to defraud the government by impeding the Mine Safety and Health Administration, and misdemeanor conspiracy to violate mandatory health and safety standards. He faces as long as six years behind bars.

Hughart's cooperation is a sign that authorities may be gathering evidence to target officials further up the Massey hierarchy. Some victims' families hold former CEO Don Blankenship personally responsible, though prosecutors have declined to say who else could face charges in the wide-ranging and continuing probe.