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Ex-Massey boss accused in UBB explosion

FORMER Massey Energy chief executive officer Don Blankenship has been implicated in the Upper Big Branch mine disaster.

Staff Reporter
Ex-Massey boss accused in UBB explosion

The CEO at the time of the deadly West Virginia mine explosion is reportedly being blamed by a former long-standing subordinate for ordering the widespread corporate practice of warning coal miners about surprise federal inspections.

The allegation came from former White Buck Coal subsidiary president David Hughart as he pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy charges.

Hughart admitted in federal court to working with others to ensure miners at his company and other Massey mines got advance warning about inspections between 2000 and March 2010.

The judge asked Hughart if there was a policy to give advanced warnings and if so, what company officials ordered the policy.

"What officers are you talking about?" Judge Irene Berger asked.

"The chief executive officer," he replied.

Blankenship was not mentioned by name.

According to The Huffington Post, 54-year-old Hughart spoke so softly that those in the federal courtroom in Beckley struggled to hear him.

He said he had no hesitation in pleading guilty to helping warn of inspections that let miners and managers conceal potentially deadly conditions that could lead to a shutdown in production.

"I allowed ... it to happen," he said. "I was responsible for the operation."

He faces up to six years in prison and a $350,000 fine when sentenced on June 25.

Hughart has been cooperating with authorities, which some consider as a sign that other officials from the Massey Energy hierarchy may be the next targets.

Blankenship retired about eight months after the explosion at the UBB mine and many families of those killed have said he is the man they would like to see prosecuted.

After the explosion, Blankenship vanished from public view but re-entered the spotlight recently with a controversial blog in which he shares his thoughts on mine safety.

In an essay on the website a couple of weeks ago, Blankenship said: “I am concerned that it will take at least one more tragedy wherein those then in charge of MSHA and Congress will be under pressure to consider what I have written that predicted the likely cause of the next tragedy.”

A 2010 Washington Post article reported that while Blankenship was at the helm, the UBB mine accumulated 1342 safety violations in just five years.

In fact, there were 57 safety infractions cited the month before the disaster alone.

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