A former Massey Energy security director was sentenced to 36 months in jail on Wednesday for making a false statement and obstructing a government investigation into the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster.
U.S. District Judge Irene Berger sentenced Hughie Elbert Stover to three years in jail, two years of probation and a $20,000 fine after he was convicted of two felonies. U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin had asked that Stover receive the maximum sentence of 25 years in prison.
Stover, 60, of Clear Fork, was found guilty last October by a federal jury that concluded he lied to investigators about Massey's practice of warning underground workers when government safety inspectors arrive at its mines. The jury also concluded that Stover later tried to have one of his guards get rid of company documents about security procedures at Upper Big Branch.
Goodwin vowed to continue a wide-ranging probe into the disaster that will include Massey higher-ups.
"We wanted to send a clear message and will continue to send that message that anyone who obstructs our investigation, they're going to be met with the harshest prosecution," Goodwin said.
Stover's lawyer, former U.S. Attorney Bill Wilmoth of Wheeling, said the judge's conclusion that the security director wasn't responsible for blowing up the mine was only a small vindication for his client.
"I suppose I should be pleased with a sentence of only three years ... but if that's a victory, it's a hollow one," Wilmoth said. "Three years is a long time for someone to be incarcerated at the age of 60."
Stover is the second person convicted in the UBB investigation. Former UPP miner Thomas Harrah was sentenced to ten months in jail after pleading guilty to falsifying a foreman's license when he performed key mine safety examinations at the mine and to lying to investigators about his actions.
Charges were filed last week against Gary May, a superintendent at UBB. May is accused of conspiring to violate mine safety standards and covering up the resulting hazards at the mine.