May pleaded guilty to plotting "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 warning of government inspections and then hide or correct violations before federal agents could make it into working sections of the mine.
Among other violations, May admitted that he "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. Also, May admitted he ordered an unidentified 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 -- required to be reported and then repaired.
Carrico argued in court filings that "there does not appear to be a link between Mr. May's conduct ... and the subject explosion." But a U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration investigation concluded that Massey's "regular practice" of giving underground employees advance notice of inspections contributed to the disaster.
May "acknowledges the wrongfulness and seriousness of his own acts, behavior and decision constituting the basis for his conviction," Carrico wrote.
Carrico said May should have "disassociated" with what Carrico said a U.S. Probation Department pre-sentence report -- a confidential document in most federal criminal proceedings -- describes as "the corporate-wide company policy" at Massey Energy.
In late November, prosecutors revealed that a longtime Massey official, David C. Hughart, had agreed to plead guilty to two criminal charges and provide testimony to assist with the investigation.
Court records indicated Hughart admitted that he conspired "with others known and unknown" to obstruct MSHA in the enforcement of federal mine safety standards at Massey's White Buck Coal subsidiary and "other coal mines owned by Massey." But when the Hughart plea deal was announced, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said he did not want to describe the conspiracy as "corporate-wide" -- at least not yet.
"I'm not sure how far I want to go with that," Goodwin said at the time. "We just aren't saying that yet."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.