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Government to seek stiff sentence for Massey security chief

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Federal prosecutors signaled Wednesday that they plan to seek a stiff prison sentence for a former Massey Energy security director convicted of lying to investigators following the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster.

U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin's office outlined its intention in a brief court filing, asking to exceed the normal page limit when it files a pre-sentencing memorandum next week.

The court filing said the sentencing of Hughie Elbert Stover, scheduled for Feb. 29 before U.S. District Judge Irene Berger in Beckley, is "an extraordinary case."

By statute, Stover could face up to 25 years in prison after being convicted by a jury of two felonies. Federal sentencing guidelines recommend a sentencing range of between 33 months and 41 months, according to prosecutors.

Prosecutors said that they plan to ask Berger for a sentence "substantially above" that recommended by the guidelines.

"The circumstances of this case fall far outside the heartland of the advisory guidelines and warrant an above-guidelines sentence," prosecutors said in their new court filing.

Stover was convicted in October by a jury that concluded he lied to investigators and then tried to destroy evidence about Massey's practice of warning underground workers when federal inspectors arrived at Upper Big Branch.

Prosecutors began their case against Stover when the security director testified under oath to MSHA investigators that he and other security guards did not provide workers an advance notice of government inspections. The government did not charge Stover with the crime of providing advance notice -- which carries a lesser charge -- but with making a false statement and concealment of documents.

In its final report on the mine disaster, MSHA said warning workers about inspections played a major role in the April 5, 2010, explosion that killed 29 miners. MSHA said Massey's policy and practice of doing so allowed it to cover up some of the serious safety problems at the operation.

"The investigations that defendant obstructed through his offense conduct<co > were exceptionally important to the families of the miners killed at UBB, to the future safety of all miners, and to the nation as a whole," prosecutors said. "The advisory guidelines for obstruction of justice and making false statements do not fully account for the significance of the investigations that defendant affected."

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


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