Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship was sentenced to a year in federal prison and fined $250,000 for conspiracy to willfully violate mine health and safety standards at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch (UBB) mine, located in Raleigh County, W. Va.
The UBB mine was the site of an explosion April 5, 2010, that killed 29 workers.
“This sentence is a victory for workers and workplace safety,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Casto.
“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.”
During the trial, the jury, which returned a guilty verdict Dec. 3, 2015, heard from 27 witnesses called by the United States, many of whom were coal miners who worked at UBB prior to the deadly explosion. The miners testified about the unsafe working conditions at UBB, violations of U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration regulations and efforts to obstruct and interfere with MSHA inspectors.
“Putting profits over the safety of workers is reprehensible,” Casto said. “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.”
The jury also heard from Bill Ross, former manager of technical services at Massey, who said he warned Blankenship about the possibility of a fatal accident, given the company’s ongoing violations and decision to ignore MSHA. It also was proven that Blankenship received daily updates on safety violations.
“Donald Blankenship’s trial and conviction came after an explosion that killed 29 miners at the Upper Big Branch mine,” said Special Agent in Charge John Spratley of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General, Office of Labor Racketeering and Fraud Investigations’ Philadelphia regional office. “His sentencing today reaffirms the responsibility of company executives to ensure they adhere to health and safety standards. “
The sentencing was the result of a joint investigation that, including Blankenship, resulted in five criminal convictions.