CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A federal judge has again postponed the sentencing of a former Upper Big Branch Mine superintendent, after prosecutors said the delay would assist their ongoing criminal investigation of the April 2010 mine disaster that killed 29 workers.
U.S. District Judge Irene Berger has rescheduled the sentencing hearing for Gary May for Jan. 17. The sentencing had been set for Oct. 4 in Beckley, after being delayed from earlier this month.
Earlier this week, Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby said in a court filing that May "is cooperating in an ongoing investigation and the parties need additional time to fully develop the extent of his cooperation."
Ruby added, "The additional time sought ... will allow significant further development of the investigation" into the April 5, 2010, explosion at a Massey Energy mine in Raleigh County.
In a plea deal with prosecutors, May admitted that he plotted "with others known and unknown" to put coal production ahead of worker safety and to conceal the resulting hazards on numerous occasions at Upper Big Branch. May admitted that he took part in a scheme to provide advance warning of government inspections and then hide or correct violations before federal agents could make it into working sections of the mine.
For example, May, after learning that federal Mine Safety and Health Administration inspectors were about to sample the level of coal dust in the mine, "surreptitiously redirected" additional fresh air to the area to conceal actual working conditions in the mine.
May also "caused and ordered" the disabling of a methane monitor on a continuous mining machine at Upper Big Branch less than two months before the deadly blast.
May also ordered an unnamed person to falsify mine examination records by omitting a hazardous condition -- high water that could endanger workers and interfere with the flow of fresh air through underground tunnels.
Federal, state and independent investigations have blamed the worst U.S. coal-mining disaster in nearly 40 years on widespread safety violations, including a systematic failure by Massey management to comply with rules aimed at controlling the buildup underground of explosive coal dust.