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Former Massey Energy Co. CEO Don Blankenship was sentenced Wednesday to a year in federal prison and ordered to pay a $250,000 fine for his role in the Upper Big Branch mine explosion in West Virginia that killed 29 miners in 2010.
Mr. Blankenship was acquitted of all felony charges, but convicted of a misdemeanor conspiracy charge in December for willfully violating U.S. mine health and safety standards and received the maximum sentence and fine applicable under his conviction, according to news releases.
“This sentence is a victory for workers and workplace safety,” Acting United States Attorney Carol Casto for the Southern District of West Virginia said in a statement. “It lets companies and their executives know that you can't take chances with the lives of coal miners and get away with it. Putting the former chief executive officer of a major corporation in prison sends a message that violating mine safety laws is a serious crime, and those who break those laws will be held accountable.”
During the trial, more than two dozen witnesses, including coal miners who worked at Upper Big Branch, testified about unsafe working conditions at the mine, violations of U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration regulations and organized efforts to obstruct and interfere with MSHA inspectors, according to the government's release.
Mr. Blankenship's motion to stay his sentence pending appeal was denied by the judge, who ruled he will self-report once the Bureau of Prisons determines where he will serve his sentence, according to a government spokesperson.
An attorney for Mr. Blankenship could not be immediately reached for comment.
The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration will ramp up its enforcement, education and outreach efforts in light of a “troubling” number of coal miner fatalities early in 2016.