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The security chief of Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch mine, Hughie Elert Stover, was arrested Monday and charged with lying to the FBI and obstructing the investigation of the Virginia mine explosion last year that killed 29 miners, according to The Washington Post.
These are the first criminal charges stemming from the mine explosion.
A federal grand jury in West Virginia indicted Hughie Stover last week after investigators kept running into obstacles. Massey Energy chief executive, Don L. Blankenship, and about 15 others declined to to speak to them. And documents were missing.
The indictment alleges Stover lied to investigators about company policies and practices regarding warning mine personnel when federal safety inspectors arrived on site. In addition, the indictment alleges Stover attempted to destroy thousands of pages of security documents pertaining to how Massey handles such matters, reports the Charleston Gazette.
"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," said U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin. "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."
Advanced notification of any MSHA inspection is generally prohibited by federal law, and since the mine explosion, agency officials are cracking down on what many say is a widespread industry practice.
Yet, according to the indictment, when Stover was asked about Massey's policies concerning the advance notice of inspections, Stover told investigators that Massey subsidiary Performance Coal "had a practice and policy dating back to at least 1999 that forbade security guards at the Upper Big Branch Mine from giving advance notice of an inspection by prohibiting the announcement of the presence of MSHA inspectors ... over the Montcoal channel."
Stover added he "would have fired any security guard who did not abide by the practice and policy forbidding announcement of the presence of MSHA inspectors.
The indictment, however, alleges those statements were "false, fictitious and fraudulent" since Stover "had himself directed and trained security guards" to give advance notice of the inspections.
Also, the indictment alleges that Hughie Stover knew federal officials were looking into advance notice of inspections at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch and attempted to obstruct the investigation by dumping thousands of pages of security-related documents into the trash.
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