The Price of 29 Deaths: One Year in Prison

With all the brouhaha over the presidential election, it’s understandable that this story would not be discussed much in the news.  However, I think it’s very important, as not only did 29 people die, but it is indicative of a systemic problem in this country – the overriding importance of profit over people’s safety and lives.

I became aware of this as I was puttering about in the kitchen, with the news playing in the background.  I heard a man sobbing, stating how it wasn’t fair that someone got only one year when so many people were dead.

I caught the whole story on the next pass (since CNN and others report the same stories over and over), and also did some internet research on my own.

What I found out was absolutely disgusting.

I’d like to say it was surprising, but considering my past work and the outcomes I saw, time and time again, when profit supersedes peoples’ health, I can’t.

The story: Donald Blankenship, former CEO of Massey Energy Company, was convicted of only one count of conspiracy to violate federal mine safety standards (“Donald Blankenship Sentenced to a Year in Prison in Mine Safety Case”, Alan Blinder, New York Times website, 4/6/2016).

The original charges were conspiracy to defraud the United States, making a false statement to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, and making false statements to investors – all three are felonies; and conspiracy to violate mine safety standards, which is a misdemeanor (“The Don Blankenship Trial – FAQ”, Ken Ward, Jr and Joel Elbert, JoelEbert Atavist website, no date posted).

Aside #1: Joel Ebert is a reporter who often writes about legal cases.

His site adds that, four months later, the government was able to combine the two conspiracy counts into one felony count of conspiracy that includes both the safety violation and defrauding the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (Ibid).

If convicted as charged, Blankenship could have been sentenced to 30 years in prison.  But, for some reason, he still was only convicted on the violation of mine safety standards – so he is only facing one year in prison.

I am not a lawyer, and really wish someone who was would explain this to me.  I don’t understand how, if the misdemeanor was essentially rolled into one felony count, Blankenship wasn’t convicted of that.

What, exactly, was the incident that spurred these legal charges?

In April of 2010, the Massey Upper Big Branch Mine exploded, killing 29 miners (“Ex-Coal CEO Convicted of Misdemeanor Conspiracy”, Jonathan Mattise (AP) and John Raby (AP), via the US News and World Report website, 12/3/2015).

29 people.  29 people who were already risking black lung disease and other health issues just to make a living in West Virginia, which is ranked 49th in income (“These Are America’s Richest and Poorest States”, Dora Mekouar, Voice of America website, 9/21/2015).

The poverty rate in West Virginia is 18.3%.  Only Mississippi is poorer – ranked #50 at 21.5% (Ibid).

And, although this CEO got the maximum allowed by law for this charge – which, by the way, was touted as a great victory by the government because no CEO has ever been convicted of this – it’s a huge tragedy for families who have suffered so much already.

People who worked for this guy got stiffer sentences for things like lying about warning miners when inspectors were coming (Hughie Elbert Stover, 36 months), and thwarting federal mine safety regulators (Gary May, 21 months).

One man – David Hughart – got 42 months for thwarting federal mine safety regulators and for conspiracy to violate U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration standards (“The Don Blankenship Trial – FAQ”Ken Ward, Jr and Joel Elbert, JoelEbert Atavist website, no date posted).

Yes, there’s that charge again – only a misdemeanor.  The other charges are felonies.  That charge should also be a felony.  The law needs to change.

One of the arguments the defense used, apparently successfully, was that the reason the government was prosecuting this CEO was to “bolster the political fortunes of R. Booth Goodwin II, the United States attorney who oversaw the case” (“Donald Blankenship Sentenced to a Year in Prison in Mine Safety Case”, Alan Blinder, New York Times website, 4/6/2016).

Goodwin is a Democrat.  Blankenship is a Republican. So the defense pandered to the “liberals picking on the conservatives” point-of-view that many people hold.

Aside #2: Don’t get me wrong, I do not subscribe to the “Democrats good, Republicans bad” political point-of-view.  To me, when money is involved, partisan politics goes out the window.  It just seems to me that Republicans are more often anti-union and anti-safety-if-it-costs-us-money than Democrats are – but it’s just by a narrow margin.

And Blankenship’s reaction to his conviction?  He winked.

Yes, that’s right – he winked at reporters.  Supposedly this was a reference to his attorney asking a witness if he thought he and Blankenship had a “wink and a nod” that there would be violations of mine safety regulations (“In The United States District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia at Charleston Transcript of Proceedings”, assets.documentcloud.org, 11/17/2015).

He winked.  Then he laughed (“Ex-Coal CEO Convicted of Misdemeanor Conspiracy”, Jonathan Mattise (AP) and John Raby (AP), via the US News and World Report website, 12/3/2015).

Now there’s a heartless, smug bastard if there ever was one.  And I’m pretty sure he is convinced he will win on appeal.

Sleeping well, with the blood of 29 miners on his hands that he doesn’t even see because, to him, these are not really people.   Miners are only “things” to make profits for him.  He doesn’t care about them or their families.

He doesn’t care about the man who I heard sobbing on national tv.

Something is very wrong with this country when all the networks devote hours of analysis on why Donald Trump is whining about being too damn stupid to understand the Republican rules for nomination, and not have one in-depth report on this mine tragedy and subsequent lack of serious consequences for someone who made massive amounts of money from said mine.

So massive, in fact, that the company that purchased Massey Energy paid in excess of $5.8 million to defend him.  And then declared bankruptcy (“The Don Blankenship Trial – FAQ”Ken Ward, Jr and Joel Elbert, JoelEbert Atavist website, no date posted).

I can only shake my head and mourn for the loss of these men, and for the families they left behind.

Today’s weirdness comes from UPI.  It’s for those people who are considering a move to Canada if the presidential election doesn’t go as they want:

“Canadian Survey Reports Increased UFO Sightings in 2015”.  So if you’re scared of otherworldly aliens, be forewarned!

I think Cape Breton might be a better bet, actually…

Today’s recommendation is for the FactCheck.org website.  They seem to do a pretty good job of debunking false news stories and false claims made in news stories (such as the one that Hillary Clinton stated about Vermont being the main supplier of guns to New York – not true).

Be good.  Be kind.   Help others whenever you can.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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3 thoughts on “The Price of 29 Deaths: One Year in Prison

  1. charlies5169

    Unfortunately, this happens all too often. Money and profit evidently trumps (oops, sorry) any thing resembling “right or wrong”. I used quotes because these are relative concepts, and the more money involved, the more relative they become.

    I suppose if there is any justice in the universe, Mr. CEO would end up sharing a cell with a 400 lb lovesick hillbilly who can put him in touch with his feminine side.

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    Reply
    1. Victoria Post author

      You know, if Trump really wants to keep up the pretense of being “just another joe”, he would have commented on the mine disaster and expressed sympathy to the families. But he didn’t. Neither did Bernie. Hillary Clinton at least has tried to help miners, and has criticized the coal industry – but on this matter, she was silent.

      (If anyone knows differently, please let me know)

      To his everlasting credit, though, our president did, in fact, place the blame for this on Blankenship. He also gave the eulogy saying, amongst other things, “How can we let anyone in this country put their lives at risk simply by showing up for work, by simply pursuing the American dream?” (April 25, 2010 edition of the Charleston Gazette-Mail)

      With all his faults, and with all my disagreements with his policies at times, I think I am going to miss President Obama. He has a capacity for empathy that I haven’t seen with most of our other presidents, besides Jimmy Carter.

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      Reply

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