BECKLEY, W.Va. – The chief executive at the time of the deadly West Virginia mine explosion was implicated by a former longtime subordinate Thursday of ordering a widespread corporate practice of warning coal miners about surprise federal inspections.
The allegation made on a former president of a Massey Energy subsidiary came as he pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy charges and as federal investigators have signaled they are working their way up the ladder to what experts say would be a rare prosecution of a major corporate executive.
Former White Buck Coal Co. president David 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.
When asked by Judge Irene Berger if such warnings were company policy and, if so, who ordered it, Hughart said “the chief executive officer.” Though he was not mentioned by name in court, Don Blankenship was Massey CEO at the time. And outside the courtroom, Karen Hughart confirmed that’s who her husband meant.
“Don called the office and at home,” she said, adding that her husband has been threatened several times in his career. “Anyone that did not comply was threatened. We lived under fear.”
The charges against Hughart grew from federal prosecutors’ continuing investigation of the 2010 Upper Big Branch mine disaster that killed 29 workers.