Tuesday, March 1, 2011

First Indictment Returned In Upper Big Branch Mine Investigation

The government has unsealed the Hughie Elbert Stover Indictment in the Southern District of West Virginia. Stover is charged with one count of 18 U.S.C.Section 1001 false statements and one count of 18 U.S.C. Section 1519 concealment, mutilation, and destruction of records and documents. This is the first indictment coming out of the government's investigation of the 2010 Upper Big Branch Mine explosion in Montcoal, West Virginia. The charges do not appear to be directly related to the explosion itself, which may account for the relative restraint of the well-crafted speaking indictment and DOJ's Press Release on Hughie Stover. Stover, head of security for Massey subsidiary Performance Coal Company, Inc., is accused of lying to federal investigators by stating that: 1) Performance security guards were forbidden to give advance warning of Mine Safety and Health Administration ("MSHA") Inspectors' presence at the mine; and 2) he would fire any guard who gave such advance notice. According to the indictment, Stover actually devised the system under which advance notice of MSHA Inspectors' presence was quickly relayed through the mine via a mine communications channel. Stover is also accused of directing an employee to destroy records of the warning system. Section 1519 was enacted as part of Sarbanes-Oxley. The indictment nowhere mentions Massey Energy or the explosion itself. The press release does, including quotes from U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin and Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer. Therefore, the press release clearly goes beyond what is in the indictment. I am generally not a fan of broad speaking indictments or lengthy press releases that announce indictments. But here, as mentioned, the indictment, although speaking, is restrained and well-crafted. The purpose of the relatively brief press release is to send a message that any obstruction of an important ongoing investigation will be swiftly and ruthlessly punished. In this regard, it is important to note that both the alleged false statements and the alleged records destruction occurred in January of this year. To me, this is one of the very few valid reasons for any kind of an extended press release announcing an indictment--that is, to send a message that obstruction of a major ongoing investigation will not be tolerated and that those who engage in it will pay a price. Press reports indicate that Stover was arrested at his home. This was unfortunate and unfair. Stover is innocent until proven guilty and, as Stover's Conditions of Pretrial Release indicate, nobody considers him a flight risk or danger to the community. He was released on an unsecured $10,000.00 bond.

(wisenberg)

 

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