Ex-CEO Guilty in Mine Blast

Monday, December 7, 2015 @ 05:12 PM gHale

Former Massey Energy Chief Executive Don Blankenship ended up convicted Thursday of a misdemeanor count connected to a deadly coal mine explosion and acquitted of more serious charges.

A federal jury in West Virginia convicted Blankenship of conspiring to willfully violate mine safety standards. The misdemeanor charge carries up to one year in prison.

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Jurors did not find Blankenship guilty of a more serious conspiracy charge included in the same count that could have netted five years in prison. He also ended up acquitted of making false statements and of securities fraud.

Blankenship faced charges of conspiring to break safety laws and defrauding mine regulators at West Virginia’s Upper Big Branch mine and lying to financial regulators and investors about safety. An explosion at the mine in 2010 killed 29 men.

At a news conference after the verdict, U.S. Atty. Booth Goodwin called it a “landmark day for the safety of coal miners.” He also said it is the first time a chief executive at a major U.S. corporation facing jail time for a conviction for a workplace safety crime.

“This is, to my knowledge, unprecedented,” Goodwin said. “And in this case, it is long overdue. The defendant endangered the safety of his workers for years by ignoring the laws that were intended to keep them safe.”

Defense attorney William Taylor said Blankenship plans to appeal. “The case should have never been brought,” Taylor said.