Don Blankenship, the former CEO of Massey Energy, was convicted of conspiracy to willfully violate mine health and safety standards. He was acquitted of securities fraud and making false statements to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
The former CEO ran the West Virginia mine that exploded in 2010, in one of the worst U.S. mine disasters in decades. Massey was the 4th largest coal producer in the U.S. at the time and the largest mine operator in the Appalachian region. The Upper Big Branch explosion killed 29 workers. Massey Energy had racked up an extensive list of violations before the disaster and in 2011, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration found that Massey had a history of “systematic, intentional, and aggressive efforts” to evade safety laws.
The company kept two sets of books to mislead the miners who worked there and the inspectors, they often tipped off crews to surprise inspections, and intimidated workers who wanted to report violations.
Massey was bought by Alpha Natural Resources after the disaster and in December of 2011, it settled with the Justice Department for $209 million in fines, penalties, and compensation to the families of the men killed.
Sentencing is set for March of next year, he faces up to a year in federal prison.
“This is a landmark day for the safety of coal miners. Really it’s a landmark day for all working men and women,” Booth Goodwin, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia, told reporters. “The CEO and chairman of one of America’s largest coal companies now stands convicted of willful violations of the laws that are designed to keep coal miners safe.”
He said that it was his hope the verdict would make a difference throughout the country.
“To go from boardroom to the prospect of incarceration sends a powerful message to executives who would ignore the safety of their workers. It doesn’t matter who you are, how rich you are, how powerful you are, if you violate the laws and gamble with the lives of your workers, you will be held accountable,” Goodwin said.
The defense said that they were disappointed in the verdict, but were hopeful for their appeal, “We wanted to be acquitted on all counts, but the fact the jury acquitted him on all felonies and convicted only on the misdemeanor is some consolation.”