Attachment 24595

Gary May, a former superintendent of the West Virginia mine where a 2010 explosion killed 29 miners, pleaded guilty Thursday to federal fraud charges.

May, 43, of Bloomingrose, W. Va., pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Irene C. Berger to conspiracy to impede the Mine Safety and Health Administration's enforcement efforts at Massey Energy Co.'s Upper Big Branch mine from February 2008 and April 5, 2010.

Upper Big Branch was the site of a fatal explosion on April 5, 2010, that killed 29 miners. May was the mine's superintendent at the time of the explosion.

"People who run coal mines have a fundamental obligation to be honest with mine regulators," U.S. Attorney R. Booth Goodwin II said in a Justice Department release. "When mine operators resort to tricks and deceit to keep government officials in the dark, our mine safety system unravels and miners are put in harm's way. The least we can do for coal miners is protect the integrity of the laws designed to keep them safe."

May, the highest ranking company official charged in the explosion at the Upper Big Branch coal operation, faces a possible five years in prison and $250,000 fine. Sentencing was set for Aug. 9.

Prosecutors said May disabled a methane monitor, falsified records and altered the ventilation system to fool mine safety inspectors.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration, in a report released earlier this month, said federal mine inspectors failed to evaluate some parts of the Upper Big Branch mine in Montcoal, including areas affected by the explosion, but did not blame the inspectors for the blast. The report said Massey Energy racked up nearly 700 violations in the 18 months before the fatal explosion, including eight that could have been considered "flagrant." The coal company falsified records and concealed problems that would have led inspectors to take action, the report said.

Since the explosion, Massey Energy was acquired by Alpha Natural Resources.