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Jailed Massey Mine Boss Claims He Was Company's Sacrificial Lamb

A jailed, former superintendent of Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch coal mine claims his attorney colluded with attorneys for the company and its executives to avoid testimony about complicity in his crimes.

Gary May is serving a 21-month federal prison sentence after pleading guilty to conspiracy to thwart federal mine safety law by warning miners underground when inspectors arrived on the surface for surprise inspections.

In court documents filed from prison, May claims that his attorney, Tim Carrico, and attorneys for Massey Energy, senior company officials and Alpha Natural Resources, manipulated his defense effort so that higher-level executives would not be implicated.

The filings were first reported in The Register-Herald of Beckley, W.Va.

The Upper Big Branch mine exploded in April, 2010, killing 29 coal miners. Multiple investigations blamed Massey Energy's safety practices and a federal criminal investigation continues. Alpha Natural Resources absorbed the company in 2011.

May says Carrico told him "not to testify about Massey's corporate policy of advance notice," which was enforced by company executives. May was ready to name the executives, including former CEO Don Blankenship.

Carrico was paid by Massey and Alpha, according to May's court filings, consulted with Alpha general counsel Phil Monroe and was assisted in defense strategy by Tammy Harvey, an attorney for Blankenship and spouse of former Massey general counsel Shane Harvey.

In a later filing, May claims that Shane Harvey was also improperly involved in his defense.

An exhibit filed with the court contains an email from Alpha's Monroe to Carrico.

"I did speak with Tammy (Harvey), and what we are going to do is have you represent Gary," Monroe says in the email. "Behind the scenes, Tammy will likely prepare most of the pleadings since they had to be consistent and have you review and sign off if they are appropriate."

May considers Carrico's representation a "conflict of interest" and wants U.S. District Judge Irene Berger to reconsider his sentence.

"The appearance of impropriety further taints the public's perception of justice and fair play and makes one question just whose interests the Carrico, Monroe, Harvey, Harvey defense team were actually defending," May says in a court filing.

Neither Carrico, nor Shane and Tammy Harvey have responded to NPR requests for comment.

The Associated Press reports that Shane Harvey says he was not involved in May's defense.

As for Alpha's Monroe, spokesman Ted Pile tells NPR Monroe "did not, in any way, provide legal advice, assist in formulating legal strategy or provide any input in the criminal case against Gary May."

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Howard Berkes is a correspondent for the NPR Investigations Unit.