Wednesday, Donald Blankenship, former CEO of Massey Energy Company, was sentenced to one year in prison for conspiring to violate federal mine safety standards. Blankenship will also be fined $250,000 and be subject to a year of supervision upon his release from prison.
The sentence came six years and one day after a coal dust explosion Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia killed29 coal workers and seriously injuring the only two survivors. Investigators found the cause of the explosion to be poor ventilation, which allowed for gases to accumulate and, eventually, combust.
Federal officials said the guilty verdict was the first time such a high-ranking executive had been convicted of a workplace safety violation.
Blankenship's incredibly light prison term for actions that lead to the deadliest American coal mining accident in 40 years is the maximum allowed by law. Federal officials have said that last autumn’s guilty verdict was the first time such a high-ranking executive had been convicted of a workplace safety violation.
Blankenship rose from a working-class West Virginia background to become one of Appalachia's wealthiest and influential businessmen. You can find his personal website here.
“You should be someone that we are able to tout as a West Virginia success story,” Judge Irene C. Berger, herself the daughter of a coal miner, said before she described Mr. Blankenship’s career, in which he earned tens of millions of dollars and gained remarkable sway over this state’s politics and people.
But, she said, “Instead of being able to tout you as one of West Virginia’s success stories, however, we are here as a result of your part in a dangerous conspiracy.”
Blankenship was initially charged with several felonies but acquitted. The charge of conspiring to violate federal safety standards is a misdemeanor.
Blankenship remains in jail while his lawyers appeal the sentence. Read more about the coal baron in the New York Times article here:
Source: NYTimes.com; www.donblankenship.com