October 27, 2011 / 1:41 AM / 8 years ago

Ex-mine official convicted in deadly U.S. disaster

CHARLESTON, W.Va., Oct 26 (Reuters) - The former security chief at a West Virginia coal mine where 29 miners died last year was convicted of two felonies on Wednesday, the U.S. Attorney’s office said.

Hughie Elbert Stover, 60, was convicted by a federal jury of making false statements to FBI and Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) investigators and of obstructing a federal investigation of the Upper Big Branch disaster.

Stover will be sentenced on Feb. 29, 2012.

An explosion at the mine, owned by the now-defunct Massey Energy, killed 29 miners in April 2010. Massey was bought by Alpha Natural Resources ANR.N earlier this year.

During the investigation, Stover allegedly told FBI and MSHA investigators that security guards did not warn workers when MSHA inspectors were on their way to the mine.

Investigators found Stover himself had warned personnel. He also allegedly instructed another person to destroy thousands of Massey documents related to the Upper Big Branch mine.

“Today’s verdict sends a clear message that when a person obstructs an investigation, especially an investigation as important as this one, there will be consequences,” said U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin.

Another former Massey employee, Thomas Harrah, pleaded guilty in April to making false statements on documents and to investigators after passing himself off as a mine foreman, even though he failed the foreman’s exam. Both are felonies.

Three reports, including a preliminary one by MSHA and another released on Tuesday by the United Mine Workers of America, blame Massey for the disaster by allowing unsafe conditions in the mine. (Reporting by Steven Allen Adams; Editing by Jerry Norton and John O’Callaghan)

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