Ex-Massey CEO Blankenship implicated in inspection warnings
BECKLEY, W.Va. — The chief executive at the time of a deadly West Virginia mine explosion was implicated by a former longtime subordinate on Thursday of ordering a widespread corporate practice of warning coal miners about surprise federal inspections.
A former president of a Massey Energy subsidiary made the allegation as he pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy charges and as federal investigators have signaled they are working their way up the ladder to what experts say would be a rare prosecution of a major corporate executive.
Former White Buck Coal Co. President David Hughart admitted in federal court to working with others to ensure that miners at his company and other Massey mines got advance warning about inspections between 2000 and March 2010.
When asked by Judge Irene Berger if such warnings were company policy and, if so, who ordered it, Hughart said “the chief executive officer.” Though he was not mentioned by name in court, Don Blankenship was Massey CEO at the time. Outside the courtroom, Karen Hughart confirmed that's whom her husband meant.
“Don called the office and at home,” she said, adding that her husband has been threatened several times in his career. “Anyone that did not comply was threatened. We lived under fear.”
The charges against Hughart grew from federal prosecutors' continuing investigation of the 2010 Upper Big Branch mine disaster that killed 29 workers. U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin refused to comment on the direction of his investigation, but Hughart's testimony was the latest signal that he could be working his way to the top.
Blankenship attorney William Taylor said his client has done nothing wrong.
“Don Blankenship did not conspire with anybody to do anything illegal or improper. To the contrary, Don took every possible step to make the mines under his responsibility safer,” he said in an email.
“We are not particularly concerned about Mr. Hughart's statement,” Taylor added. “It is not surprising that people embellish or say untrue things when they are attempting to reduce a possible prison sentence.”
Hughart is the highest-ranking Massey employee involved in a criminal case since the investigation began. A former Upper Big Branch superintendent pleaded guilty to charges he defrauded the government through his actions at the mine and was recently sentenced to 21 months in prison.
Hughart faces up to six years in prison and a $350,000 fine when sentenced June 25.
Blankenship retired about eight months after the nation's worst coal mining disaster in four decades, and several victims' relatives have demanded he be prosecuted.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Instances of hacking may be up, but indictments against Chinese military impactful, experts say
- Dolphin leaps into boat, mom hurt
- Infantry veteran gets nod to lead Marines as top general
- Calif. cities slash water use
- Security for optic cables called lax
- 7th victim bitten off Outer Banks
- Fires at black churches stir worst fears amid relative calm
- Episcopalians vote to allow same-sex wedding ceremonies
- Justice to investigate airlines over seat restrictions, ticket prices
- Official: Fire at South Carolina black church wasn’t arson
- Obama: U.S. embassy in Havana marks ‘new chapter’ in Cuba ties