Energy & Environment

Convicted ex-coal boss says he’s a ‘political prisoner’

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Don Blankenship, the convicted former coal executive spending a year in prison, is coming out in his own defense again, saying he is an “American political prisoner.”

Blankenship, who led Massey Energy Co. during the 2010 Upper Big Branch disaster that killed 29 miners in 2010, wrote a 68-page booklet from prison to declare that he is a victim of long-running animosity from labor unions, the Obama administration, the judiciary system and others.

{mosads}The booklet comes weeks before Blankenship’s defense team is due to argue in a federal appeals court that his conviction on a misdemeanor charge of conspiring to violate mine safety laws should be overturned.

“You can be sure I am fully innocent,” Blankenship wrote. “The real conspiracies were the government’s coverup of the [Upper Big Branch] truth and my prosecution.”

Blankenship was acquitted at trial last year of felony charges of securities fraud and lying to investigators. But he received the maximum one-year sentence for the conspiracy charge.

The booklet takes aim at a wide range of people, including President Obama, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, former federal prosecutor Booth Goodwin and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).

Blankenship’s booklet continues his long-standing view that not only is he innocent in the 2010 explosion, but the actions of the Mine Safety and Health Administration contributed to the disaster.

“Essentially I am in federal prison because [prosecutor Steve Ruby] believes that the [Upper Big Branch] mine should have had a few more miners, and that not having those miners caused safety violations to occur,” Blankenship wrote. “Violations written by the Mine Safety and Health Administration 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.”

Blankenship’s central argument is that an unexpected build-up of natural gas in the mine, not coal dust as federal officials concluded, caused the explosion.

Blankenship said he plans to mail out 250,000 copies of the booklet, though he did not specify to whom.

Goodwin, who has gone into private practice since prosecuting Blankenship, slammed the former coal boss’s efforts.

“This is more Blankenship propaganda,” Goodwin said in an email.

“Blankenship was convicted by a jury of his peers of willfully violating mine safety laws — laws designed to keep miners safe,” he said. “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.”

Shortly before reporting to prison in May, Blankenship stood with protesters at a Clinton rally in West Virginia. Clinton said he “got off easy,” and Blankenship responded that “it is disappointing that she is choosing to promote her political campaign by demonizing me.”

Tags Coal Hillary Clinton Joe Manchin Upper Big Branch Mine disaster
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