Grand jury indicts Blankenship

by Chris Dickerson |
Nov. 13, 2014, 3:26pm

CHARLESTON – A federal grand jury on Thursday returned an indictment charging former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship with four criminal offenses related to the April 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine that killed 29 miners.

U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said Thursday the indictment charges Blankenship with conspiracy to violate mandatory federal mine safety and health standards, conspiracy to impede federal mine safety officials, making false statements to the United States Securities and Exchange Commission as well as securities fraud.

The indictment alleges that from about Jan. 1, 2008, through about April 9, 2010, Blankenship conspired to commit and cause routine, willful violations of mandatory federal mine safety and health standards at Massey's Upper Big Branch mine in Raleigh County.

The indictment alleges that during this same period of time, Blankenship was part of a conspiracy to impede and hinder federal mine safety officials from carrying out their duties at Upper Big Branch by providing advance warning of federal mine safety inspection activities, so their underground operations could conceal and cover up safety violations that they routinely committed.

The indictment further alleges that after a major, fatal explosion occurred at Upper Big Branch on April 5, 2010, Blankenship made and caused to be made false statements and representations to the SEC concerning Massey's safety practices prior to the explosion.

Also, the indictment alleges that, after this explosion, Blankenship made and caused to be made materially false statements and representations, as well as materially misleading omissions, in connection with the purchase and sale of Massey stock.

The FBI and the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Inspector General are in charge of the investigation.

Goodwin's office has been investigating the Upper Big Branch explosion since 2010. He, Counsel to the U.S. Attorney Steven Ruby, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Gabriele Wohl are handling the prosecution.

The four counts charged carry a maximum combined penalty of 31 years’ imprisonment, according to Goodwin.

Less than a year after the mine disaster, Massey announced in December 2010 that Blankenship retired from Massey at the end of 2010, and Alpha Natural Resources bought Massey in January 2011.

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