Corporations like Massey, since bought out by Virginia-based Alpha Natural Resources, are typically structured to shield their leaders from liability, the experts say. To reach the top, investigators would most likely need hard evidence to match witnesses’ words.
Either that, says former U.S. Attorney Kendall Coffey of Miami, or they’ll need multiple witnesses.
“If the star witness has a supporting cast,” he said, “it can be a compelling basis for conviction.”
Hughart, former president of a Massey subsidiary that controlled White Buck Coal Co., worked alongside Blankenship for at least 15 years and was named in a federal information filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Beckley. He is cooperating with prosecutors, and U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said Hughart is prepared to plead guilty to two conspiracy charges that carry the possibility of six years in prison.
Hughart’s phone has been disconnected, and his attorney didn’t immediately comment.
Although Upper Big Branch is never directly mentioned in the case against Hughart, Goodwin said the charges come from the investigation of the April 2010 explosion. And the nature of the allegations parallels charges brought against those who were directly involved with UBB.