Read the indictment here.CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The chief of security for Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch Mine lied to investigators and tried to destroy mine records, a grand jury has alleged in the first charges to come from a federal criminal probe of the April 2010 explosion that killed 29 coal miners.
Hughie Elbert Stover, 60, of Clear Fork in Raleigh County, was charged with two felonies that allege he tried to obstruct FBI agents and U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration investigators looking into the mine disaster.
The eight-page indictment alleges Stover lied to investigators about company policies and practices regarding warning mine personnel when federal safety inspectors arrived on site. It also alleges Stover tried to destroy thousands of pages of security documents investigators believe could shed light on how Massey handles such matters.
"The conduct charged by the grand jury -- obstruction of justice and false statements to federal investigators -- threatens our effort to find out what happened at Upper Big Branch," said U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin. "With 29 coal miners lost and thousands more waiting for answers about what caused the disaster, this inquiry is simply too important to tolerate any attempt to hinder it."
The grand jury charged Stover in an indictment filed under seal on Friday and made public Monday after Stover was arrested and made an initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge R. Clarke VanDervort.
Federal law generally prohibits advance notification of any MSHA inspection, and since the Upper Big Branch explosion agency officials have been cracking down on what many say is a widespread industry practice.
The Stover indictment says FBI agents and MSHA special investigators have been looking into allegations that advance notice of inspections "had been given on a regular and continuing basis" at the Upper Big Branch Mine.
Investigators discovered that there were multiple radio channels used by security guards at the mine, the indictment says. One was known as the "security channel," and another as the "Montcoal channel." Workers in the mine office could overhear transmissions on the Montcoal channel, the indictment said.
The indictment says that federal agents interviewed Stover on or about Jan. 21 and asked him about Massey's policies concerning advance notice of inspections.
Stover told investigators that Massey subsidiary Performance Coal "had a practice and policy dating back to at least 1999 that forbade security guards at the Upper Big Branch Mine from giving advance notice of an inspection by prohibiting the announcement of the presence of MSHA inspectors ... over the Montcoal channel," the indictment said.
Stover also told investigators he "would have fired any security guard who did not abide by the practice and policy forbidding announcement of the presence of MSHA inspectors over the Montcoal channel," the indictment said.
The indictment alleges that those statements were "false, fictitious and fraudulent" because Stover "had himself directed and trained security guards" to give advance notice of MSHA inspections. The indictment charged him with making false statements, a charge punishable with up to five years in prison.