BECKLEY -- A former Massey Energy executive who acknowledged he conspired in an illegal advance-warning scheme at West Virginia coal mines was ordered Tuesday to spend 3½ years behind bars for his role in undermining both federal safety laws and the inspectors charged with enforcing them.
U.S. District Judge Irene Berger sentenced former White Buck Coal Co. president David Hughart on conspiracy charges that grew out of a criminal investigation into the 2010 Upper Big Branch mine disaster. She also ordered him to serve three years' probation when he finishes his sentence. White Buck Coal was a Massey subsidiary.
"I'm sorry for what I've done in the past. I let it happen," Hughart told the judge. "It was very common practice."
Though Hughart never worked at Upper Big Branch, he is cooperating in an ongoing Department of Justice probe of the explosion that killed 29 men. Two other men, former Upper Big Branch security chief Hughie Elbert Stover and former superintendent Gary May, are already behind bars for their actions at the now-sealed mine near Montcoal.
Hughart's cooperation signals that federal prosecutors may be working their way up Massey's corporate ladder, though they have steadfastly refused to comment on their possible targets.
Hughart has admitted his role in ensuring that miners at other Massey subsidiaries got illegal advance warning of surprise safety inspections, and he implicated Massey CEO Don Blankenship in the conspiracy during his plea hearing earlier this year.
Several investigations found miners at Upper Big Branch routinely got illegal advance warnings, giving them time to temporarily fix or disguise potentially deadly conditions underground.
Massey is now owned by Virginia-based Alpha Natural Resources. Blankenship, who retired ahead of the merger, denies any wrongdoing.
Hughart was fired from White Buck a month before the Upper Big Branch blast after failing a random drug test.
He'd been in court earlier Tuesday for a bond-revocation hearing following a recent arrest on drug charges. Federal probation officials said he was caught Aug. 30 in Beckley with the painkiller oxycodone and the anti-anxiety drug alprazolam, but he had no prescription for either.
He did not contest the drug charges in court.
Magistrate Clarke VanDervort revoked Hughart's $10,000 bond, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby said he would move to have Hughart immediately detained upon sentencing.
That decision pleased Gary Quarles, whose son Gary Wayne, died at Upper Big Branch.