Share This Page

Superintendent at W.Va. during mine explosion sentenced to 21 months

| Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013, 6:42 p.m.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A former superintendent at West Virginia's Upper Big Branch mine where 29 miners died in a 2010 explosion was sentenced to nearly two years in prison on Thursday on a federal conspiracy charge.

Gary May pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Beckley in March to charges he defrauded the government through his actions at the mine, including disabling a methane gas monitor and falsifying records.

In addition to his 21-month sentence, U.S. District Judge Irene Berger fined May $20,000.

May had asked for leniency. Federal sentencing guidelines recommended 15 to 21 months in prison, although prosecutors pushed for a sentence at the high end. They said the guidelines didn't account for the risk to miner's lives created by May's actions.

“I think this does send a very powerful message that if you break mine laws and risk miners' lives, that you're going to go to jail,” U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said.

May has cooperated with prosecutors in their continuing criminal investigation of the worst U.S. coal mining disaster in 40 years. He's among three people to face serious criminal charges.

May had testified at the February 2012 sentencing of former Massey security chief Hughie Elbert Stover, who was sent to prison for three years for lying to investigators and ordering a subordinate to destroy documents. It was one of the stiffest punishments ever handed down in a mine safety case. In December, a federal appeals court upheld Stover's conviction.

A plea hearing is set for Feb. 28 for former longtime Massey Energy executive David Hughart on two federal conspiracy charges. He's accused of working with unnamed co-conspirators to ensure miners at White Buck and other Massey-owned operations got advance warning about surprise federal inspections between 2000 and March 2010.

Hughart worked closely with former Massey CEO Don Blankenship, who retired about eight months after the explosion.

Prosecutors have negotiated a $210 million agreement with the company that bought Massey, Alpha Natural Resources, to settle past violations at Upper Big Branch and other Massey mines. That protects the company from criminal prosecution but leaves individuals open to it.

Goodwin didn't mention Blankenship when asked about him, noting instead that Hughart supervised a group of mines and had a long career at Massey.

“We are not simply focused on Upper Big Branch,” Goodwin said.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.