Federal prosecutors want to block Massey Energy Co. shareholders from reviewing documents gathered during civil and criminal investigations into last April's deadly explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia.
Shareholders are suing Virginia-based Massey, its officers and directors. They want a chance to review documents turned over as part of ongoing civil and criminal investigations into the explosion, which killed 29 miners.
The class-action fraud lawsuit accuses Massey of misleading investors and seeks damages for artificially pumping up its stock price.
The U.S. Attorney's office for southern West Virginia is asking a federal judge to deny the shareholders' request. In a recent filing, the office said releasing the documents at this time would hurt efforts to prosecute Upper Big Branch security chief Hughie Stover. The government filed its request earlier this month.
A grand jury looking into the explosion indicted Stover in February on charges of lying to federal investigators and obstruction of justice.
The 59-year-old Stover has pleaded not guilty to one count of lying to FBI and federal Mine Safety and Health Administration investigators and one count of obstruction of justice. The latter centers on allegations that Stover ordered a subordinate to dispose of thousands of pages of security documents from Upper Big Branch. His trial has been set for April 25.
Releasing the documents "would directly strike at the very heart of the ongoing criminal investigation being conducted by various agencies of the federal government," assistant U.S. Attorney Fred Westfall, Jr. wrote.
The shareholder request "seeks the very documents produced during the criminal investigation as well as documents produced during grand jury proceedings."
Westfall noted that MSHA has agreed to delay holding public hearings and releasing transcripts of witness interviews at the request of prosecutors.