CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A Massey Energy security chief has been charged with another criminal count that alleges he lied to investigators looking into the explosion that killed 29 workers at Massey's Upper Big Branch Mine.Hughie Elbert Stover, 59, of Clear Fork, now faces three felonies that allege he tried to divert government agents investigating whether Massey officials tried to warn mining operations in advance of impending federal inspections.On Tuesday, a federal grand jury in Charleston issued an indictment that alleged Stover lied to the team of U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration officials, state regulators and independent investigators who are conducting the civil probe of the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster.The new count, added to charges originally filed in late February, alleges Stover falsely told the MSHA investigation team that Massey's Performance Coal Co. subsidiary, which operates Upper Big Branch, had "a practice and a policy" that prohibited security guards from notifying anyone at a mine site when MSHA inspectors arrived.But, the indictment alleges, Stover himself "directed and trained security guards at Performance's Upper Big Branch Mine to give advance notice by announcing the presence of an MSHA inspector on the mine property over the radio.""The MSHA investigators probing the UBB explosion are doing vitally important work -- work that promises to save many lives in the years ahead," said U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin. "Anyone who tries to deceive those investigators dishonors the memories of the men lost at UBB and puts every miner in America at risk. We have zero tolerance for that kind of callous, criminal behavior."MSHA chief Joe Main has made it a priority of his agency to stop mine operators from receiving advance notice of inspections and to investigate reports of such incidents.
During a Beckley field hearing held last year by then-House Labor Committee Chairman George Miller, federal lawmakers heard complaints from Upper Big Branch miners and families of the disaster's victims about advance notice of inspections at Massey operations.The Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety and Health Act, proposed by Miller, would have made this kind of illegal conduct a felony and punishable by five years in prison or a $250,000 fine.The charges against Stover don't directly concern giving advance warning of inspections, but rather allege that Stover lied about such conduct during interviews with government officials.The original, two-count indictment alleged that Stover lied to FBI and MSHA agents and then tried to destroy thousands of pages of security documents investigators believe could shed light on how Massey handles inspection warnings.Stover pleaded innocent to those charges, and a trial is set for July 18 in U.S. District Court in Beckley.The earlier charges concerned statements that FBI and MSHA agents said Stover made to them, while the new charge concerns statements Stover made during a formal interview in which he was under oath and his testimony taken down word-for-word by a court reporter.Reach Ken Ward Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1702.