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Don Blankenship receives 1 year in prison for Upper Big Branch safety violations

Donald Blankenship

Donald Blankenship; photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images News/Thinkstock

Charleston, WV – Don Blankenship, the former Massey Energy Co. CEO who was convicted of willfully violating safety standards leading up to the deadly 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine, has been sentenced to one year in prison for his crimes.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in West Virginia announced the sentencing – which was the maximum jail time possible for Blankenship's misdemeanor conviction of conspiring to violate mine safety regulations – on April 6.

“This sentence is a victory for workers and workplace safety,” Acting U.S. Attorney Carol Castro said in a press release. “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.”

Twenty-nine miners were killed in the methane explosion at the West Virginia mine. Federal prosecutors allege that Blankenship oversaw a conspiracy to give advance notice of mine safety inspections in an effort to hide or cover up routine safety violations that occurred at Upper Big Branch. He was acquitted of those conspiracy charges, which could have carried up to 30 years of imprisonment.

Blankenship’s conviction and sentencing is one of the rare times an employer has been found to be criminally responsible for safety violations, and he is believed to be the highest-profile executive to be convicted in such a case.

The Departments of Labor and Justice recently signed an agreement to work together more closely on prosecuting employers who violate workplace safety rules.

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