Former Upper Big Branch Mine Superintendent Sentenced to Prison in Connection with a Federal Investigation at Upper Big Branch
|U.S. Attorney’s Office January 17, 2013|
BECKLEY, WV—Upper Big Branch Mine (UBB) superintendent Gary May was sentenced today to 21 months in prison in connection with a federal investigation at the former Massey Energy Company’s UBB Mine, announced U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin. Gary May, 43, of Bloomingrose, West Virginia, previously pleaded guilty in March 2012 to conspiracy to impede the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s (MSHA) enforcement efforts at UBB between February 2008 and April 5, 2010. Upper Big Branch was the site of a fatal explosion on April 5, 2010, that killed 29 miners. May was the mine’s superintendent at the time of the explosion.
In February 2012, United States Attorney Booth 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.
U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said, “With this sentence, Judge 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 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 further acknowledged that he ordered a mine examination book to be falsified. He also said he told miners to rewire the methane gas detector on a piece of mine equipment so the equipment could run illegally.
The court also ordered May to pay a $20,000 fine. May was also sentenced to three years of supervised release.
In sentencing May, United States District Judge Irene C. Berger emphasized that his actions risked catastrophic consequences. Judge Berger said that the sentence should send a message to any mine official who might put business interests ahead of safety laws.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the United States Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General conducted the investigation. Counsel to the United States Attorney Steve Ruby handled the prosecution.