David Hughart sentenced to nearly 4 years in prison - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

David Hughart sentenced to nearly 4 years in prison

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BECKLEY, WV -

A former Massey executive — and the highest coal official to date to be charged in a mine disaster probe — was sentenced Sept. 10 to nearly four years in prison.

David Hughart, 53, of Crab Orchard, appeared in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia in Beckley. A few hours before his sentencing, Hughart appeared in federal court, where he had his bond revoked because of drug charges.

According to a Sept. 5 petition for action on conditions of pretrial release, Hughart was arrested and charged with possession of alprazolam and oxycodone without a valid prescription.

In addition to his 42-month sentence, Hughart also was ordered to serve four years of supervised release – three years for the first count and one year for the second. U.S. District Judge Irene Berger did not fine him.

Hughart, who served as the former president of Massey Energy's Green Valley Resource Group, pleaded guilty to conspiring to impede MSHA inspectors and conspiracy to violate mine health and safety laws.

In the sentencing hearing, Hughart's attorney Michael Whitt asked the judge for a lesser sentence, saying Hughart didn't need a prison sentence to show him his life had been ruined.

"He went from doing a job making $100,000 to becoming destitute," Whitt said, noting Hughart lost his house and has no income.

Hughart told the court he was sorry for his actions.

"Please understand that I started in mining as an 18-year-old and we always heard about inspectors," Hughart said. "I grew up that way."

In a previous hearing, Hughart admitted that there was a practice and policy of pre-notification of inspectors when inspectors were on the property between higher-up officials and lower officials.

When Berger asked who these higher-up people were, Hughart responded that it was the chief executive officer.

Hughart pleaded guilty to covering up certain mine ventilation and dust control compliance information. Hughart was said to have worked with others to provide advance notification of safety inspections, allowing the concealment of potential hazards to miner health and safety.

After the hearing, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said this sentencing was a "significant step in the investigation," which Goodwin noted was ongoing.

"It's particularly of note that the court sentenced him to one year higher than the guideline range," Goodwin said. "I think this will promote deterrence and keep this from being a longstanding practice. It's a significant step forward."

Goodwin said the fact that Hughart is a witness and had his bond revoked was concerning.

"It shows another crisis in the district, drug abuse," Goodwin said. "This man was making $100,000 at one time and fell prey to this incredible surge."

Goodwin said the U.S. Attorney's office will proceed with the investigation.

"Hughart was part of a larger conspiracy," Goodwin said. "We will take the investigation wherever it leads."