UBB security chief gets three years in prison

THE former security chief convicted of two felonies for lying to federal officials about details leading up to the Upper Big Branch mine explosion in April 2010 has been sentenced to three years in prison and will pay $US20,000 in fines.

Donna Schmidt

Hughie Elbert Stover, 60, received his sentence from US District Judge Irene Berger in Beckley, West Virginia.

He will also serve two years of supervised release.

He was initially convicted by a jury last October for making false statements to a Federal Bureau of Investigations special agency and a special investigator for the US Mine Safety and Health Administration, as well as for obstruction of a federal investigation.

Stover served as the chief of security at UBB and at least two other operations owned by Massey Energy and served in that role on April 5, 2010 – the day of the Raleigh County blast that killed 29 miners and injured two others.

Massey was purchased last June by Alpha Natural Resources.

Stover’s false statements to the FBI and MSHA stemmed from a federal probe into the explosion regarding allegations that UBB security guards routinely notified mine personnel of the presence of MSHA inspectors on mine property.

He falsely denied that the practice existed and also told agents that he would have fired any security guard who provided advance notice, yet it was the chief himself instructing security guards to notify workers of onsite inspectors.

Additionally, the former chief ordered the disposal of thousands of pages of security-related documents stored in a Massey building near UBB so as to impede the agencies’ investigation.

“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,” US Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia Booth Goodwin said.

The criminal investigation was conducted by the FBI, the Department of Labor Office of Inspector General and MSHA special investigators.

Assistant US Attorney Blaire Malkin handled the prosecution.

Goodwin penned a sentencing memorandum prior to the sentencing urging Berger to hand down the maximum sentence of 25 years to Stover for his role in the blast and to “send a resounding message” to others.

“The government investigation of that disaster was among the most important in decades, not just to the grieving families but to 45,000 underground coal miners whose lives depend on preventing another Upper Big Branch – and to a nation appalled and ashamed that such a thing could happen in 21st century America,” he said.

“He lied to investigators and dumped more than 50,000 pages of documents to hide his part in the catastrophe.

“If this case does not warrant the maximum 25 years for obstruction of justice and a false statement, then the maximum may be illusory, for few examples of those offenses will ever surpass this.”

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