Upper Big Branch Mine Superintendent Sentenced to Prison

Gary May received a 21-month sentence on Jan. 17 after pleading guilty last year to conspiring to impede MSHA enforcement efforts at the mine, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin announced.

A 21-month prison sentence and $20,000 fine issued to the superintendent of the Upper Big Branch Mine sends a stern message to mine managers, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said. Gary May, 43, of Bloomingrose, W.Va., received that sentence from U.S. District Judge Irene C. Berger on Jan. 17 after pleading guilty last year to conspiring to impede MSHA enforcement efforts at the mine between February 2008 and April 5, 2010, the day an explosion killed 29 miners. May was the Upper Big Branch Mine South's superintendent when the blast occurred.

Goodwin charged him in February 2012 with conspiracy to defraud the United States by impeding MSHA in carrying out its lawful functions, a felony violation of 18 U.S.C. ยง 371.

"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," he said in a news release posted by his office.

According to the release, May admitted giving advance warning of MSHA inspections, often using code phrases to avoid detection, and to concealing health and safety violations when he knew inspections were imminent. Those violations included poor air flow in the mine; piles of loose, combustible coal; and scarcities of rock dust, which prevents mine explosions. It says May also acknowledged he ordered a mine examination book to be falsified and told miners to rewire the methane gas detector on a piece of mine equipment so it could run illegally.

Berger also sentenced him to three years of supervised release.

The FBI and the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Inspector General conducted the investigation.

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