Former Massey CEO found guilty of conspiracy in West Virginia mine blast

Thu Dec 3, 2015 4:39pm EST
 
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By Kara Van Pelt

CHARLESTON, W. Va. (Reuters) - Former Massey Energy Chief Executive Don Blankenship was found guilty in federal court on Thursday of conspiring to violate safety standards at the Upper Big Branch mine, the site of a 2010 blast that killed 29 people.

Relatives of those killed and prosecutors hailed the decision as sending a message on mine safety in coal-rich West Virginia even though the jury found Blankenship not guilty of making false statements and of securities fraud.

One of Blankenship's lawyers, Bill Taylor, told reporters the defense team was disappointed by the misdemeanor conviction but doubted Blankenship would serve any time in prison. Sentencing was set for March 23 in U.S. District Court.

Blankenship, 65, faces a maximum $250,000 fine and up to a year in prison.

U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin told reporters he was not disappointed with the verdict. "It brings justice that is long overdue," he said.

The jury had deliberated more than two weeks and had twice told Judge Irene Berger it was deadlocked. Blankenship's lawyers did not present a single witness.

Berger moved the trial from Beckley, near the site of the mine, after Blankenship's lawyers complained he could not get a fair trial there because of intense pre-trial publicity.

He had been accused of conspiring to falsify dust samples and violating federal securities laws by lying about company safety practices. Blankenship led Massey from 2000 to 2010 and is free on a $5 million cash bond.   Continued...

 
Former Massey Energy Chief Executive Don Blankenship is talking on his mobile phone as he walks into the Robert C. Byrd U.S. Courthouse in Charleston, West Virginia December 3, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Tilley