Massey security chief indicted in UBB probe

February 28, 2011 by Ken Ward Jr.

U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin here in Southern West Virginia just announced:

Hughie Elbert Stover, 60, of Clear Fork, Raleigh County, West Virginia, has been charged with two felonies in connection with the federal investigation of events at Massey Energy Company’s Upper Big Branch Mine (UBB). Stover is Chief of Security at UBB and at least two other Massey operations. A federal grand jury indicted Stover last week on charges of making false statements to federal agents and obstructing a federal investigation. The indictment was unsealed today after Stover was arrested at his home.

I’ve posted a copy of the unsealed indictment here, and we’ve got a quick news story on the Gazette Web site here.

UPDATED:

The indictment charges Stover with two criminal counts:

False statements to federal agents

Stover is accused of falsely telling federal agents in January 2011 that Massey’s Performance Coal Co. had a policy dating back to 1999 that forbade security guards from giving advance notice of inspections. The indictment alleges that Stover “had himself directed and trained security guards … to give advance notice by announcing the presence of an MSHA inspector over” the mine radio.

— Concealment of documents in federal investigations —

Stover is accused of instructing an individual — whose identify was not revealed in the public filing — to dispose of mine security documents by placing them in a trash compactor near the main Upper Big Branch security gate. Federal officials have apparently recovered the documents as part of their investigation into the mine disaster, including an investigation of advance notices of MSHA inspections.

UPDATED 2:

Goodwin said:

The conduct charged by the grand jury — obstruction of justice and false statements to federal investigators — threatens our effort to find out what happened at Upper Big Branch. With 29 coal miners lost and thousands more waiting for answers about what caused the disaster, this inquiry is simply too important to tolerate any attempt to hinder it. My office will continue to devote every available resource to this most critical of cases.

Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division said:

The explosion at Upper Big Branch was a national tragedy, and this investigation is a priority for the Department of Justice. The indictment unsealed today shows our deep commitment to getting to the truth about what happened, including holding to account anyone who may impede this critical investigation.

Mr. Stover’s attorney, former U.S. Attorney Bill Wilmoth, declined comment.

UPDATED 3:

Here’s a statement from Massey Energy —

The Company takes this matter very seriously and is committed to cooperating with the U.S. Attorney’s office. Indeed, the Company notified the U.S. Attorney’s office within hours of learning that documents had been disposed of and took immediate steps to recover documents and turn them over to the U.S. Attorney’s office. The matter remains under review and the Company has no further comment at this time.



11 Responses to “Massey security chief indicted in UBB probe”

  1. Monty says:

    Is anything in the indictment really all that surprising? But this is small fry, relatively speaking.

  2. WVgirl says:

    I agree with Monty. A cheif of security would hardly take it upon himself to call the mine and report an inspectors presence without being directed to do so.

  3. Skeptical says:

    Did Massey actually notify investigators of the trashed documents, or are they just saying that? Would be nice to hear from the feds on that one.

  4. old one says:

    Where in the mine act is it written that the company is not suppost to notifiy the mine when an inspector is present on mine property? Now for Federal Mine Inspector it is stated in the mine act that there is to be no prior notification of an inspection from them. Reread the Mine Act. use to be an inspector.

  5. Ellen says:

    The Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, Public Law 91-173 as amended by Public Law 95-164

    INSPECTIONS, INVESTIGATIONS, AND RECORDKEEPING

    Sec. 103(a) … In carrying out the requirements of this subsection, no advance notice of an inspection shall be provided to any person …

  6. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    old one,

    Section 103(a) of the Act says:
    SEC. 103. (a) Authorized representatives of the Secretary or the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare shall make frequent inspections and investigations in coal or other mines each year for the purpose of (1) obtaining, utilizing, and disseminating information relating to health and safety conditions, the causes of accidents, and the causes of diseases and physical impairments originating in such mines, (2) gathering
    information with respect to mandatory health or safety standards, (3) determining whether an imminent danger exists, and (4) determining whether there is compliance with the mandatory health or safety standards or with any citation, order, or decision issued under this title or other requirements of this Act. In carrying out the requirements of this subsection, no advance notice of an inspection shall be provided to any person, except that in carrying out the requirements of clauses (1) and (2) of this subsection, the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare may give advance notice of inspections.

    In addition, Section 108(a) says:

    SEC. 108. (a)(1) The Secretary may institute a civil action for relief, including a permanent or temporary injunction, restraining order, or any other appropriate order in the district court of the United States for the
    district in which a coal or other mine is located or in which the operator of such mine has his principal office, whenever such operator or his agent–
    (A) violates or fails or refuses to comply with any order or decision issued under this Act, (B) interferes with, hinders, or delays the Secretary or his authorized representative, or the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare or his authorized representative, in carrying out the provisions of this Act, (C) refuses to admit such representatives to the coal or other mine, (D) refuses to permit the inspection of the coal or other mine, or the investigation of an accident or occupational disease occurring in, or connected with, such mine, (E) refuses to furnish any information or report requested by the Secretary or the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare in furtherance of the provisions of this Act, or (F) refuses to permit access to, and copying of, such records as the Secretary or the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare determines necessary in carrying out the provisions of this Act.

    MSHA explained its interpretation of the law in this press release, http://www.msha.gov/MEDIA/PRESS/2010/NR100826.asp and in this PIB, http://www.msha.gov/REGS/COMPLIAN/Pib/2010/pib10-15.asp

    Ken.

  7. Ellen says:

    To Skeptical: Called U.S. attorney’s office and they would not confirm or deny.

  8. Jim says:

    “Small Fry”, maybe, but this maybe the first of several dominos. Time will tell.

  9. Monty says:

    Jim, I would not disagree. In fact this may be a tactic by the US Attorney to pressure some “bigger fish” to either cooperate or cut deals – or end up like Mr. Stover, indicted. It’s a common tactic.

  10. LEB says:

    “Old one” just like and old inspector doesn’t read just comments on “the way we have always done things”. it is amazing when you read litterally instead of between the lines to find the intent of the law that best suites you. I see this everyday

  11. namkrow says:

    I have entered The Performance property hundreds of times with Mr. Stover at the Guard house. Calling the Mine office to see if the person I needed to see was available (or underground) was common practice. Recording who was on the property(visitors, venders,deliveries,employees) took place 24/7. From the guard house to the mine office was about three minutes.
    It could be argued that calling from the guard house to the mine office speed things up. The man at the guard house would often tell me to meet the person I was looking for “in the warehouse” or “in the mine foreman’s office”. This would eliminate me from looking all over the mine office, bath house, stock yard and elsewhere to find who I was looking for.
    Besides if the mine office was notified three minutes ahead of time the mine office did not know which part of the mine the mine inspector was going to visit. The inspector could go to one of three miner sections, belts, escapeway or longwall section. Also if multiple inspectors showed up (and they did) on the same day, the mine personel could make plans to accomadate the mine inspectors visits.
    This whole indictment seems to be a grasp of straws to get at the cause of the explosion. At best it is a way to get people to talk.
    I really believe that this is money wasted in this case.

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