Federal Jury Returns Guilty Verdict in Blankenship Trial
CHARLESTON, WV—United States Attorney Booth Goodwin announced today that a jury sitting in federal court in Charleston, West Virginia, has returned a guilty verdict following the trial of former Massey Energy Chief Executive Officer Don Blankenship. The jury found Blankenship guilty on a federal charge of conspiracy to willfully violate mine health and safety standards.
“This is a landmark day for the safety of coal miners, and not just coal miners, but all working men and women,” stated U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin. “The jury’s verdict sends a clear and powerful message: It doesn’t matter who you are, how rich you are, or how powerful you are—if you gamble with the safety of the people who work for you, you will be held accountable.”
Over the course of the trial, in which jury selection began on October 1, 2015, the jury heard evidence from 27 witnesses. Many of these witnesses were coal miners who worked at the Upper Big Branch (UBB) mine prior to the 2010 explosion, and they testified in detail from their firsthand knowledge of the unsafe working conditions at UBB, violations of U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) regulations, and organized efforts to obstruct and interfere with MSHA inspectors. The jury heard from Bill Ross, former Manager of Technical Services at Massey, who testified that he warned Blankenship about the company’s practice of rampant violations, and told the defendant prior to the UBB explosion that Massey’s standard tactic of ignoring or defrauding MSHA could not be sustained without the possibility of a serious accident that could have fatalities. The evidence also showed that Blankenship received daily updates on safety violations and helped perpetuate them.
“The evidence overwhelmingly showed an enterprise that embraced safety crimes as a business strategy. It was reprehensible, and the jury saw it for what it was. Time and time again the defendant chose to put profits over safety. He got rich and the coal miners who worked for him paid the price,” said Goodwin. “This is the first time that I am aware of that the chief executive officer of a major corporation has been convicted of a workplace safety crime. It is my hope that this case will make a difference throughout this country, and make the places where working men and women spend their days a little bit safer. Everyone deserves to go home to their families and friends when their shift is over.”
Blankenship faces up to one year in federal prison, and a fine of up to twice the gain or loss that resulted from his conduct, when he is sentenced on March 23, 2016, in federal court in Charleston.
The prosecution was the result of a comprehensive investigation that took over five years to complete. Blankenship’s conviction is the fifth criminal conviction credited to this investigation. In addition to the convictions of individuals, the results of the investigation also include a resolution of over $200 million with Alpha Natural Resources after it acquired Massey. This agreement established a foundation dedicated to mine safety and health research, the first of its kind, and set aside nearly $50 million in funding for the foundation. That funding has provided the resources for some of the best and brightest minds in the country to pursue research that will make mines safer all over the world.
This matter was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the United States Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General. United States Attorney Booth Goodwin and Assistant United States Attorneys Steven R. Ruby, Gregory McVey, and Gabriele Wohl handled the prosecution and tried the case before a federal jury.
The prosecution is part of a sustained effort by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of West Virginia to protect the health and safety of West Virginia workers by vigorously prosecuting workplace safety crimes and holding accountable those responsible for dangerous working conditions.