Last month, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin sought and obtained a delay in the sentencing for former UBB mine superintendent Gary May, who has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with investigators. Goodwin argued that delay was needed while prosecutors used information May has provided to further their probe.
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, 43, of Bloomingrose, 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 sprawling mine.
So far, May is the third person to be charged in the sprawling federal criminal investigation at Upper Big Branch.
Thomas Harrah, a former miner at the site, 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 to then lying to investigators about his actions.
Former Massey Energy security director Hughie Elbert Stover is appealing a three-year jail sentence he received after being convicted of lying to investigators and trying to destroy evidence about Massey's practice of warning underground workers of impending government inspections.
In December, Goodwin and his team secured a $209.5 million settlement with Alpha Natural Resources, which acquired the Upper Big Branch Mine when it bought Massey Energy.
Goodwin agreed not to prosecute the company for any Upper Big Branch criminal liabilities, but required Alpha to spend $80 million over the next two years on mine safety improvements and create a $48 million mine safety research trust fund. Alpha also agreed to pay $46.5 million in restitution to families of the disaster victims and $35 million to resolve pending Massey safety fines, including $10.8 million levied for violations related to the Upper Big Branch explosion.
The settlement with Alpha, however, did not prohibit prosecutors from pursuing charges against any individuals -- including Massey officers, employees or agents -- who played a role in the mine disaster.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.