Friday, March 30, 2012

Mining Disasters: Former Upper Big Branch mine superintendent pleads guilty to conspiracy.

U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of West Virginia

BECKLEY, WV—Gary May, 43, of Bloomingrose, West Virginia, pleaded guilty today in federal court before U.S. District Judge Irene C. Berger to conspiracy to impede the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s (MSHA) enforcement efforts at Massey Energy Company’s Upper Big Branch mine (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, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia R. Booth Goodwin, II 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.

“People who run coal mines have a fundamental obligation to be honest with mine regulators,” said U.S. Attorney Goodwin. “When mine operators resort to tricks and deceit to keep government officials in the dark, our mine safety system unravels and miners are put in harm’s way. The least we can do for coal miners is protect the integrity of the laws designed to keep them safe.”

“I’m pleased that Mr. May is cooperating with our investigation,” U.S. Attorney Goodwin continued. “We hope he can give us a better picture of what was going on at this company.”

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 and combustible coal, and scarcities of rock dust, which prevents mine explosions.

May also acknowledged that he ordered a mine examination book to be falsified. May said he told miners to rewire the methane gas detector on a piece of mine equipment so the equipment could run illegally.

May faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine when he is sentenced on August 9, 2012.

The FBI and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General are handling the investigation. Counsel to the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia Steve Ruby is handling the prosecution.