"If you put profits and production ahead of mine safety, you will go to jail," Goodwin said. Goodwin said his office's probe is continuing into a "significant conspiracy" to violate mine safety laws at Massey operations, but declined to say yet if prosecutors believe criminal actions extended into Massey's executive suite or corporate boardroom.
"We are going to take our investigation where it goes," Goodwin said. "But at this point, I'm not willing to specify how far that conspiracy went at Massey Energy."
In the Upper Big Branch probe, May is the third person that Berger has so far sent to jail.
A former UBB miner, Thomas Harrah, was sentenced to 10 months in jail after he admitted to faking a foreman's license when he performed key mine safety examinations at the mine between January 2008 and August 2009, and then lied to investigators about his actions.
The judge sentenced a former Upper Big Branch security director, Hughie Elbert Stover, to 36 months in jail after Stover was convicted of two felonies: Making a false statement and obstructing the government probe of the mine disaster.
And next up in the investigation is a former longtime Massey official, David C. Hughart, who is scheduled to enter a guilty plea in late February to two criminal charges, including taking part in a decade-long scheme involving advance notice of MSHA inspections at various Massey mines. Hughart is also cooperating with investigators.
Meanwhile, MSHA is moving forward with some of the more significant regulatory improvements that have been held up during President Obama's first term.
Under a rule finalized in January, coal operators whose mines repeatedly violate safety and health standards could more easily be hit with tougher enforcement actions.
U.S. Department of Labor officials released the final version of their long-awaited updated rules aimed at reforming the controversial "pattern of violations," or "POV," program at the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.
The rules stop mine operators from using appeals of safety citations to avoid tougher enforcement and do away with MSHA warning letters that give companies additional time to improve before facing tougher enforcement.
"We think that this final rule will help prevent another tragedy such as occurred at the Upper Big Branch Mine," said MSHA chief Joe Main.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.