Ex-coal CEO sentenced to a year in prison over mine-safety conspiracy

Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship, the man once known as West Virginia's "King of Coal", has been sentenced to a year in prison for conspiring to violate federal mine safety standards.

U.S. District Judge Irene Berger in Charleston, West Virginia, also fined Blankenship $250,000 and denied his request to remain free during appeal.

She also determined that Blankenship would not have to pay restitution to about 100 people, including former miners and family members.

In addition to the year in jail, Blankenship was fined $250,000 and is subject to a year of supervised release.

The sentencing comes six years and one day after a fatal explosion tore through Massey’s Upper Big Branch mine, killing 29 people. The incident is considered the worst US coal industry accident in almost 40 years.

“This sentence is a victory for workers and workplace safety. It lets companies and their executives know that you can’t take chances with the lives of coal miners and get away with it,” acting US Attorney Carol Casto, said in a statement. “Putting the former chief executive officer of a major corporation in prison sends a message that violating mine safety laws is a serious crime, and those who break those laws will be held accountable.”

Blankenship’s defense lawyers, who are planning an appeal, recommended that he be fined and placed on probation.

When a federal jury convicted the former CEO of a misdemeanour charge in December, the US attorney said it was the first time such a high-ranking corporate executive had been found guilty of a workplace safety crime. Jurors, however, only ended up acquitting Blankenship of three felony counts.