BECKLEY, W.Va. -- A Massey Energy security director lied to federal agents and tried to destroy potential evidence in the investigation of the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster, prosecutors told a federal jury Monday morning.
"In fact, Mr. Stover's security guards did announce the arrival of inspectors. They did that because he trained them to do so," said Phil Wright, assistant U.S. Attorney.
Trial began this morning with opening statements in the trial of Hughie Elbert Stover, security director at Massey subsidiary Performance Coal, which operated the Upper Big Branch Mine.
Originally, Stover was charged in March in a two-count indictment alleging that he lied to FBI agents and U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration officials and then tried to destroy thousands of pages of security documents that investigators believed could shed light on how Massey handles inspection warnings.
In May, Stover was charged with a third count, this one alleging that he also lied to MSHA investigators conducting the civil investigation of the disaster. The original indictment was based on testimony of FBI and MSHA agents, while the additional charge drew on a formal interview taken down word-for-word by a court reporter.
Late last week, prosecutors are dropped one of the original two counts, involving allegations that Stover lied to the FBI and MSHA during an unrecorded interview in January.
Defense attorney Bill Wilmoth told jurors that Massey lawyers had signed off on the general policy of announcing all non-company visitors to the mine site.
Wilmoth also accused prosecutors of a "rush to judgment" in Stover's case, while not bringing charges against anyone actually responsible for the April 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners.
"We all want to see some justice for that, but after 568 days, countless man hours of agents scouring southern West Virginia and millions of dollars, the government brings its first case against a security guard," Wilmoth said.
U.S. District Judge Irene Berger said the trial is expected to last three to four days.
The government alleges that Stover initially lied about inspection warnings during a transcribed interview in November 2010 with a civil investigation team composed of MSHA officials, state inspectors and special investigator Davitt McAteer.
If convicted of the two remaining charges, Stover would still face up to 25 years in prison.