BECKLEY – A federal judge says former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship doesn't have to pay $28 million in restitution.

In her April 4 order, Judge Irene Berger said Blankenship doesn't have to pay Alpha Natural Resources back for the legal fees it paid at least seven former Massey employees, investigative expenses and fines in relation to the 2010 Upper Big Branch explosion in Raleigh County that killed 29 miners.

In December, Blankenship was convicted of a misdemeanor conspiracy to willfully violate mine safety standards at Upper Big Branch Mine. His sentencing is scheduled for April 6, and he faces up to a year in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Berger said Alpha incurred its financial hardships more than a year after Blankenship's indictment and after Alpha purchased Massey Energy in 2011. Alpha also voluntarily entered a non-prosecution agreement with the government.

Alpha filed its motion for relief on March 7, and Blankenship’s attorneys filed a memorandum opposing the relief on the same day.

“This is an unprecedented attempt to add draconian penalties to an offense that Congress has classified as a misdemeanor, and Alpha has no right to recover any of these expenditures from Mr. Blankenship as restitution,” the defendant’s memorandum states.

Blankenship's trial lasted two months, and a federal jury convicted him on Dec. 3 of conspiracy to violate federal mine safety and health standards at the Upper Big Branch Mine. The mine disaster occurred on April 5, 2010, and 29 workers died in the explosion.

U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia case number: 5:14-cv-00244

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