TAFT, Calif. – Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship calls himself an "American political prisoner" just weeks before his federal appeal is heard.
Blankenship, who began serving a one-year sentence on May 12 for conspiring to willfully violate mine safety standards at Massey's Upper Big Branch mine in Raleigh County. That's the mine where a 2010 explosion left 29 coal miners dead.
Blankenship issued a statement on Oct. 5 from Taft Correctional Facility in California, where he says he "serving time as the one and only misdemeanor of 2,000 inmates (according to prison staff)."
Blankenship said over the next few days, he will be mailing out 250,000 copies of a booklet that "will shed some truthful light on what really happened to cause the UBB explosion, and how horribly broken our American judicial system has become."
He said the booklet also is available at donblankenship.com.
"The final appeal motion for reversal of my misdemeanor conviction was filed Sept. 6," Blankenship wrote. "Legal motions are always long and complex, but basically the appeals court is being asked to decide whether it is a federal crime to have a few less miners at a coal mine than Assistant United States Attorney Steve Ruby (Ruby) believes the mine should have.
"The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., will hold a public hearing regarding my appeal on Oct. 26."
In his statement, Blankenship says he is in prison because Ruby "believes that the UBB mine should have had a few more miners, and that not having those miners caused safety violations to occur. Violations written by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) as 'non-willful' civil violations, which Ruby says were 'willful' criminal violations because more miners would have prevented many of them.
"The appeals court will decide whether having less miners (how many less Ruby did not say) than Ruby thinks were needed is a federal crime. The appeals court is aware that Ruby's belief that more miners will prevent 'non-willful' mine safety violations is belied by the facts."
Blankenship also said again that MSHA issued a false investigation report after the UBB explosion.
"They likely did so to cover-up that they had required the miners to reduce the mines airflow shortly before the explosion," he wrote. "Both of the government’s lead prosecution witnesses testified at my trial that MSHA required the airflow to be reduced.
The explosion was a highly unusual natural gas explosion and was not propagated by coal dust as MSHA claimed. MSHA also wrongly accused the coal miners of contributing to the cause of the explosion."
Back to the appeal, again the court will decide whether then US Attorney Booth Goodwin (Goodwin) and his Assistant Steve Ruby can convert "non-willful" MSHA violations into "willful" violations six years after they were issued, and do it without a single MSHA inspector who wrote a violation even appearing at trial.
Blankenship wrote more about the hearing set for later this month.
"The appeals court will also decide if it was okay for Ruby to introduce 42 new exhibits on re-direct examination of a key witness, and then for the defense to be denied any re-cross of the witness on the new exhibits," he wrote. "They will also decide whether it is okay for federal judges to continue to define reasonable doubt as something other than reasonable doubt.
"The appeals court will also decide whether (then-U.S. Attorney Booth) Goodwin and Ruby can charge a person with breaking the law without saying what law was broken. They will decide if Ruby's answer as to which law was broken is acceptable. His answer was that the government does not have to identify which law was broken because 'they would break whatever laws needed to be broken to advance their goal of making more money.'"
Blankenship goes on to claim government officials are guilty of misconduct.
"The court is aware that U.S. Senator Joe Manchin declared on national television before trial, that he believed I had 'blood on my hands,'" Blankenship wrote. "President Obama proclaimed the mine tragedy was 'first and foremost a failure of management' before any investigation of the explosion.
"Kevin Stricklin, Head Administrator for Coal Mine Safety and Health, wrote 'the operator blew up the mine, MSHA didn't,' again before any investigation of the explosion."
Blankenship said Americans should be concerned that a former prosecutor said on television.
"Mike Hissam basically said that Goodwin and Ruby indicted me for two of the felony charges, knowing I did not commit them, but instead for 'tactical' reasons," he wrote. "This simply means they were willing to put me in prison for the rest of my life for crimes they knew I did not commit.
"Prosecutors Goodwin and Ruby spent five and a half years investigating and trying me in a federal court of law for three felony charges. The justice system and the jury found me 'not guilty' of all three felonies. They then went on national television – i.e. '60 Minutes' – and they said I am like a 'drug kingpin' and running a 'criminal enterprise.'
"Saying that Massey was a criminal enterprise slanders not just me, but thousands of hard working men and women in the area. It also slanders thousands more who worked as Massey’s suppliers and vendors."
Goodwin, who now is back in private practice after resigning from the U.S. Attorney's office to run for governor, dismissed Blankenship's statement and booklet.
"This is more Blankenship propaganda," Goodwin said Wednesday afternoon. "Blankenship was convicted by a jury of his peers of willfully violating mine safety laws — laws designed to keep miners safe. They are the same laws that if broken, cause deadly mine explosions like the one that tragically killed 29 miners at UBB. Blankenship is in prison because of his greed, his arrogance, and his criminal behavior. This most recent stunt shows that he still has not learned this lesson: if you gamble with miners lives, you deserve to go to prison.
"A convicted criminal who denies his crimes from prison is still a convicted criminal and still in prison. The only difference is that this one has the money to spend a fortune on postage for his denials."
In his statement, Blankenship finished by saying politicians imprisoned him for political, self-serving reasons.
"What other convicted misdemeanor has ever been declared responsible for a mine tragedy by the President of the United States before any investigation; to have 'blood on his hands' by a United States Senator before trial; and to have run a 'criminal enterprise' by not one, but two, United States federal prosecutors after being found not guilty of all three felony charges?" Blankenship wrote. "Politicians put me in prison for political and self-serving reasons. I am an American political prisoner."