Former Upper Big Branch mine (UBB) superintendent Gary May was sentenced Jan. 17 to 21 months in prison in connection with a federal investigation at the former Massey Energy mine, the site of an April 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners.
U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said that May, 43, of Bloomingrose, W.Va., pleaded guilty in March 2012 to conspiracy to impede the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s enforcement efforts at UBB between February 2008 and April 5, 2010, the date of the explosion. May was the mine’s superintendent at the time of the explosion.
In February 2012, Goodwin filed a one-count information against May, charging him with conspiracy to defraud the United States by impeding MSHA in carrying out its lawful functions, a felony violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371.
Goodwin said in a Jan. 17 statement: “With this sentence, Judge [Irene] Berger took the opportunity to send a powerful message to this mine manager and other mine managers who would put profits over safety: if you violate mine laws and put miners at risk you will go to jail.”
May admitted that he and others conspired to impede MSHA in administering and enforcing mine health and safety laws at UBB. He acknowledged giving advance warning to underground workers of MSHA inspections, often using code phrases to avoid detection. May also admitted to concealing health and safety violations when he knew inspections were imminent. The violations concealed included: poor airflow in the mine; piles of loose, combustible coal; and scarcities of rock dust, which prevents mine explosions.
May also acknowledged that he ordered a mine examination book to be falsified. And he told miners to re-wire the methane gas detector on a piece of mining equipment so the equipment could run illegally.
The court also ordered May to pay a $20,000 fine and he was sentenced to three years of supervised release.
Massey Energy, once the largest coal producer in Central Appalachia, was hammered publicly and in financial circles about the explosion and the expensive aftermath. It was acquired in June 2011 by Alpha Natural Resources (NYSE: ANR), which promised to fix the safety programs at the ex-Massey mines.