Hughart plea hearing postponed

FORMER Massey Energy White Buck president David Hughart, scheduled to enter his plea on conspiracy charges later this week in a West Virginia court, has had his hearing delayed for more than a month.

Donna Schmidt

According to the Associated Press, a federal judge granted Hughart’s request and delayed the meeting from January 16 until February 28.

The news service said the postponement also gave more time for defense attorney Michael Whitt to look over case documentation after former attorney Tim Carrico withdrew from the case due to an unknown conflict of interest.

Hughart will appear before US District Judge Irene Berger in Beckley, West Virginia, when he responds to his charges, though he denies wrongdoing.

A spokesman for US Attorney Booth Goodwin, who has jurisdiction over the region where the mine is located, initially confirmed his charges to ILN on November 28.

“Miners deserve a safe place to earn a living,” he said at the time.

“Some mine officials, unfortunately, seem to believe health and safety laws are optional. That attitude has no place in the mining industry or any industry.”

Goodwin alleges Hughart and others at Massey conspired to violate health and safety laws, then concealed those violations by warning mining operations when MSHA inspectors were coming.

He said the alleged criminal conspiracies involved not just Hughart’s Green Valley group but also other Massey mines between 2000 and 2010.

Hughart is the highest ranking official charged in an ongoing federal investigation of Massey and faces up to six years behind bars.

The criminal investigation was sparked by the Upper Big Branch mine explosion on April 5, 2010, that killed 29 miners.

Hughart’s charges arise from an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Labor Office of Inspector General and the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division.

Counsel to US Attorney Steve Ruby and senior litigation counsel Larry Ellis are handling the prosecution.

Alpha Natural Resources, which gained the Massey mines through a merger in 2011, is cooperating with the process.

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