A federal judge heeded the request of prosecutors and has sentenced former Massey Energy Company CEO Donald Blankenship to one year in prison for conspiring to violate federal mine safety standards. The deaths of 29 miners six years ago prompted prosecution of Blankenship.
An explosion in March 2010 ripped through Massey’s Upper Big Branch mine and caused the workers’ deaths. Flammable gases, including methane and coal dust, had been allowed to accumulate in the mine.
Blankenship was also fined $250,000 and sentenced to a year of supervised release.
In court on his sentencing day, Blankenship expressed sorrow to the families of those killed but said, “I am not guilty of a crime.”
Prosecutors had called for the maximum of one year in prison. Blankenship’s defense team asked for a fine and probation. His lawyers plan an appeal.
Last December, a West Virginia jury convicted the former coal company CEO of one misdemeanor count of conspiring to violate mine safety. He was acquitted of making false statements and of securities fraud.
If he had been convicted on all counts, the maximum penalty would have been 31 years in prison, an almost certain life sentence given Blankenship’s age, 65.
Blankenship is the most prominent American coal executive ever convicted of a charge related to the deaths of miners.
Over the years, Massey had accumulated thousands of safety citations at its mines.
Two other Massey managers, including a former superintendent of Upper Big Branch, pleaded guilty to criminal charges. Authorities granted immunity to the president of the Massey subsidiary that ran U.B.B., Christopher Blanchard, who then testified for the prosecution.
Prosecutors argued Blankenship was a micro-manager who kept track of his mines by requiring reports every half hour. Legal experts say this level of oversight made it easier for the government to make its case against the former CEO.
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