Ex-Massey boss seeking leniency in conspiracy case

FORMER Massey Energy executive David Hughart, scheduled to be sentenced for conspiracy on August 1, has asked a federal judge for leniency in his case because of what he claims is an unfair link of his crimes to the Upper Big Branch mine explosion.

Donna Schmidt

White Buck Coal president David Hughart, who entered his pleas on conspiracy charges earlier this year in a West Virginia court, said this week that his life had been ruined by “terrible negativity” and publicity created by his case, according to the Associated Press.

His defense attorney Michael Whitt said, in a sentencing memorandum for US district judge Irene Berger, that his client never worked for UBB, and left the Massey subsidiary he did work for long before the April 2010 blast that killed 29 workers.

“[H]e has gone from affluent to totally destitute as a result of his crime,” the representative said.

Hughart pleaded guilty in February to two charges of federal conspiracy, admitting to working with others to ensure miners at his company and other Massey mines received advance warning about inspections between 2000 and March 2010.

He has been compliant and cooperative throughout the case. Indeed he reportedly implicated ex-Massey chief executive officer Don Blankenship in late February during his please hearing.

According to a February 28 report in the Huffington Post, the judge at the hearing 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.

The paper said 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," Hughart said. "I was responsible for the operation."

He faces up to six years in prison and a $350,000 fine.

His June 25 sentencing was moved to August 1.

Because Hughart cooperated with authorities, some are considering it a sign that other officials from the Massey Energy hierarchy may be the next targets.

Massey is owned by Alpha Natural Resources.

According to the AP Assistant US attorney Steve Ruby told the judge that the court should consider a stiffer sentence because of the impact his actions had on others.

“Common sense dictates that when a defendant risks other people’s lives and health, that fact must be accounted for in fashioning his sentence,” Ruby said in his filing, adding that treating this conspiracy like one that created only financial harm “would understate the seriousness of this offense”

Rudy said Hughart’s cooperation had been valuable and might eventually warrant a request for leniency.

Whitt, meanwhile, said Hughart understood he was wrongly informed that the company had a legal right to warn workers of imminent inspections.

“David has come to know that mine safety laws are not suggestions [and] prison can do nothing to reinforce this fact,” he said.

“[He] deeply regrets his criminal conduct and that such conduct was part of ‘business as usual’ under former Massey management.”

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