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Coal King Don Blankenship Sentenced to 1 Year in Prison for Safety Violations

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By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Former Massey Energy Chief Executive Officer Don Blankenship, 66, was sentenced Wednesday in federal court in Charleston, W. Va., to one year in prison and fined $250,000 for conspiracy to violate mine health and safety standards in West Virginia where 29 miners were killed in a coal dust explosion six years ago.

In December he became the first CEO in U.S. history to be convicted of a workplace-safety crime, Bloomberg reports. 

“This sentence is a victory for workers and workplace safety,”  Acting U.S. Attorney Carol Casto said in a statement “It lets companies and their executives know that you can’t take chances with the lives of coal miners and get away with it.  Putting the former chief executive officer of a major corporation in prison sends a message that violating mine safety laws is a serious crime and those who break those laws will be held accountable.”

A Justice Department press release stated:

Over the course of the trial, in which jury selection began on Oct. 1, 2015, and the jury returned a guilty verdict on Dec. 3, 2015, the jury heard evidence from 27 witnesses called by the United States.  Many of these witnesses were coal miners who worked at the Upper Big Branch (UBB) mine prior to the 2010 explosion and they testified in detail from their firsthand knowledge of the unsafe working conditions at UBB, violations of U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) regulations and organized efforts to obstruct and interfere with MSHA inspectors.

The jury heard from Bill Ross, former Manager of Technical Services at Massey, who testified that he warned Blankenship about the company’s practice of rampant violations and told the defendant prior to the UBB explosion that Massey’s standard tactic of ignoring or defrauding MSHA could not be sustained without the possibility of a serious accident that could have fatalities.  The evidence also showed that Blankenship received daily updates on safety violations and helped perpetuate them.

“Putting profits over the safety of workers is reprehensible,” Casto remarked.  “The jury acknowledged that with the guilty verdict and the sentence imposed today recognizes that disregarding safety laws has real consequences.  From the beginning, the objective of this investigation and this prosecution was to not only show that those who violate safety laws will be held responsible, but also to deter these violations in the future to make everyone’s workplace safer.”


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