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Former Massey official faces drug charges

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A longtime Massey Energy official who is cooperating in the criminal investigation of the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster is facing a bond-revocation hearing after being arrested last week on drug charges, records show.

David C. Hughart had already been scheduled for sentencing Tuesday after he pleaded guilty to two criminal charges that he plotted with other Massey officials to routinely violate safety standards and then cover up the resulting workplace hazards.

In February, U.S. District Judge Irene Berger released Hughart on a $10,000 personal recognizance bond pending his sentencing. Among other conditions, the release required Hughart not to violate any federal, state or local laws.

On Aug. 30, Beckley police arrested Hughart and charged him with possession of alprazolam, an anti-anxiety medication, and oxycodone, a painkiller, without a valid prescription, records show.

After the arrest, a federal probation officer filed a petition in federal court seeking to have Hughart arrested and asking that his bail be revoked.

Court records that were made public Friday show that Hughart was arrested and has been ordered to appear before U.S. Magistrate Judge R. Clarke VanDervort at 1 p.m. Tuesday. Hughart's sentencing is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Tuesday before Berger. Hughart pleaded guilty in late February, and prosecutors confirmed that the former Massey official is helping them in a criminal probe that began with the deaths of 29 miners in an April 2010 explosion and has expanded into a broader examination of Massey safety practices.

Hughart faces up to six years in prison and a fine of up to $350,000. In his deal with U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin, Hughart pleaded guilty to one felony count of conspiracy to defraud the government by thwarting U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration inspections and one misdemeanor count of conspiracy to violate MSHA standards.

During a Feb. 28 plea hearing, Hughart alleged that former Massey CEO Don Blankenship was among those who took part in a decade-long conspiracy to subvert federal safety inspections at the company's mines.

Through his lawyer, Blankenship has denied any wrongdoing and, writing on his blog, Blankenship said Hughart was fired from Massey for drug use and stealing from the company.

Hughart did not work at Upper Big Branch, and his plea deal involved crimes he admitted committing between 2000 and 2010 at Massey's White Buck operations in Nicholas County, where two mid-level foremen and a Massey operating subsidiary were prosecuted five years ago for criminal safety violations.

Internal Massey documents, made public as part of lawsuits against the company, show that Hughart was fired on March 19, 2010.

Hughart had failed a random drug test and "seemed to be having financial difficulty," according to the documents, which were unsealed by a court action brought by The Charleston Gazette and NPR News. Massey auditors alleged that Hughart hired his son, promoted him to an $89,000-a-year job, and gave him a company truck to drive. The audit report, filed in Kanawha Circuit Court, also alleged that Hughart received $150,000 in kickbacks between May 2008 and March 2010, by having a Massey contract firm fake invoices for work that was never performed.

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.


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