WASHINGTON Feb 29 A U.S. judge sentenced
the former security chief at a West Virginia mine to three years
in prison after being convicted of two felonies related to a
federal probe into the worst U.S. coal mining disaster in 40
years, in which 29 workers died.
Hughie Elbert Stover, 60, was convicted in October for
making false statements to Mine Safety and Health Administration
and FBI investigators as well as obstructing the probe into the
disaster at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia.
During a nearly three-hour hearing in Beckley, West
Virginia, U.S. District Judge Irene Berger sentenced him on
Wednesday to three years in a federal prison to be followed by
two years of supervised release, according to court records.
"Today's sentence sends a clear message that when a person
obstructs an investigation - especially an investigation as
critical as UBB - there will be consequences," Booth Goodwin,
U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia, said
in a statement.
The mine where the April 5, 2010 explosion occurred was
owned by Massey Energy, which was bought last year by Alpha
Natural Resources. In addition to the 29 miners killed,
two others were injured.
Prosecutors had asked that Stover be sentenced to the
maximum 25 years in prison citing the gravity of the case, far
above federal sentencing guidelines that recommended a prison
term of 33 months to 41 months.
"Indeed, even the 25-year maximum sentence would represent
only 10-1/2 months for each death involved," prosecutors said in
a submission to the judge, adding that a lower sentence would
"risk trivializing the impact" of Stover's conduct.
Prosecutors said that Stover required his team to watch for
inspectors so they could alert mine workers when they arrived,
despite being told that such alerts were illegal. He falsely
denied that such a practice existed when questioned by
authorities, they said.
Stover was also convicted for obstructing the investigation
into the disaster by ordering the disposal of thousands of pages
of Massey security documents in a trash compactor, but the
materials were recovered.
Stover's lawyer had urged the judge to sentence him to
probation or home confinement, arguing that authorities had
asked his client vague questions and that Stover did not know
that he should not have disposed of the records in question.
Several investigations have blamed Massey for the disaster
by allowing unsafe working conditions at the mine.
The sentencing coincided with release of the latest mine
inspection statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor's Mine
Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).
MSHA said that in January federal inspectors issued 171
citations, 15 orders and two safeguards for safety violations at
12 coal mines. The inspections began in force in April 2010
following the explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine.
One of Alpha Natural Resources' mines, Deep Mine 41
in Virginia, received 5 citations in the January inspection,
It did not specify the violations, but they can typically
include frequent hazard complaints or hotline calls; plan
compliance issues; inadequate workplace examinations; a high
number of accidents, injuries or illnesses; fatalities; and
adverse conditions such as increased methane gas, faulty roof
conditions and inadequate ventilation.
The case is USA v. Stover in U.S. District Court for the
Southern District of West Virginia, No. 11-cr-38.