Don Blankenship, the former CEO of Massey Energy, was indicted on Thursday by a federal grand jury in West Virginia, The Charleston Gazette reports. Prosecutors allege that Blankenship was willfully responsible for a pattern of safety violations that led to an explosion in 2010 at the Upper Big Branch Mine (UBB), an event that resulted in the deaths of 29 miners.
The indictment says, in part:
Blankenship knew that UBB was committing hundreds of safety-law violations every year and that he had the ability to prevent most of the violations that UBB was committing. Yet he fostered and participated in an understanding that perpetuated UBB's practice of routine safety violations, in order to produce more coal, avoid the costs of following safety laws, and make more money. [Indictment, via The Charleston Gazette]
If he is convicted, Blankenship could face up to 31 years in prison. The U.S. Attorney's investigation of the mine accident has already produced four convictions, the Gazette notes, as well as a $200 million settlement with the company that later bought Massey Energy in 2011.
Blankenship's attorney, William W. Taylor III, said in a statement that the indictment is a politically motivated plot by the government. "Mr. Blankenship is entirely innocent of these charges. He will fight them and he will be acquitted," said Taylor. "Don Blankenship has been a tireless advocate for mine safety. His outspoken criticism of powerful bureaucrats has earned this indictment. He will not yield to their effort to silence him. He will not be intimidated."