Donald L. Blankenship, former Massey Energy CEO, was found guilty of a misdemeanor conspiracy to violate mine safety laws in December. An explosion at Massey's Upper Big Branch (UBB) Mine in southern West Virginia killed 29 men in 2010. Prosecutors stated that he made a "cold-blooded decision to gamble with the lives of the men and women who worked for him."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby explained:
“The United States knows of no other case in which a major company's CEO has been convicted of a crime against worker-protection laws. But compare this crime to others seen more regularly. Which is worse: a poor, uneducated young man who sells drugs because he sees no other opportunity, or a multimillionaire executive, at the pinnacle of his power, who decides to subject his workers to a daily game of Russian roulette? Which is worse: that young man carrying a gun during a single drug deal—a crime that will earn him a five-year mandatory minimum prison sentence—or a CEO jeopardizing the lives of hundreds, day after day? Which is worse: stealing money or trampling on laws that protect human life? In each case, to ask the question is to answer it. Under any fair assessment, only a sentence of many years in prison could truly reflect the seriousness of Defendant’s crime and provide just punishment, which the law requires the court to do… It shocks the conscience that in the 21st century, knowing all that has been learned from decades of grief in our nation's mines, the CEO of a major coal company would willfully conspire against the laws that protect his workers' lives. One struggles for words to describe the inhumanity required for a mogul like Defendant to send working men and women into needless, mortal jeopardy for no purpose other than to pile up more money.”
Federal law says that willfully violating mine safety and health standards is worth, at most, a year in prison.
Robert Weissman, president of the watchdog group Public Citizen, agreed in a statement issued Tuesday:
“For decades, coal company executives have ruthlessly endangered the lives of coal miners, disregarding the law and sure they could escape, at worst, with slap-on-the-wrist penalties. It’s long past time for that era to be put to rest; doing so requires putting coal company executives in jail for their crimes. That is why it is so important that the notorious Don Blankenship be given the maximum jail time for his conspiracy conviction”
What SOYMB said at the time