In its report on the Upper Big Branch explosion, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration concluded that Massey "established a practice of using staff to relay advance notice of health and safety inspections to mine personnel when federal and state inspectors arrived at the mine.
"This advance notice allowed [Massey] employees to conceal violations from enforcement personnel" and avoid fixing major problems that led to the disaster, MSHA said.
Prosecutors said that Stover "played a singular and indispensable role in these warnings.
"He required UBB security guards to act as lookouts for mine inspectors, making a radio announcement the moment an inspector arrived," prosecutors said. "UBB was a sprawling mine, so these early warnings routinely gave mine officials up to two hours to conceal illegal conditions. Defendant's wrongdoing helped stop MSHA inspectors from ever discovering how dangerous UBB truly was."
Prosecutors said that MSHA inspectors warned Stover's guards in 2001 and 2007 that advance notice of inspections was a crime. Both times, they said, guards told Stover about the warnings, but he ignored them and "persisted in ordering that inspections be announced."
In their legal memo, prosecutors explain that, "longstanding conventional wisdom holds that the federal government cares little about mine safety crimes.
"This case has the potential to upend that assumption and foster broad deterrence in an industry that is closely monitoring the outcome here," Goodwin wrote. "A sentence consistent with the magnitude of defendant's conduct and its consequences will send a resounding message: Gambling with coal miners' lives risks the most severe punishment available under the law."
Prosecutors argued that courts routinely impose sentences far higher than that sought for Stover in gun and drug cases "whose facts pale next to those here," citing one recent 260-month sentence for charges involving gun possession and selling crack
"Tens of thousands of similar federal sentences are handed down every year," prosecutors said. "Prisons overflow with young people confined for a decade or more for conduct that has led to no deaths and had no impact beyond their immediate surroundings."
Wilmoth argued that Stover, a 60-year-old former Marine and sheriff's deputy, "poses no threat to anyone, and his history of law-abiding, contributing family man and member of society factors against a term of incarceration."
Prosecutors said that they expected defense lawyers to "seek leniency" based on Stover's testimony at trial that he "would never break the law." Prosecutors said that, if necessary, the government would "offer evidence of misconduct by defendant beyond that addressed at trial."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.