CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The 43-page four-count federal indictment of former Massey Energy president and CEO Don Blankenship portrays an operator obsessive about upping production at the cheapest cost. Federal prosecutors allege it was an attitude that led to the deadly explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in Raleigh County that killed 29 miners.

MORE: Read the full indictment

The indictment, announced Thursday by U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin, alleges Blankenship knew about UBB’s safety problems and the practice of alerting supervisors underground when federal mine inspectors arrived at UBB for inspections. It’s also alleged he lied to the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission about mine safety in the days after the April 5, 2010 explosion in an attempt to help Massey’s stock price.

Blankenship was charged with conspiracy to violate mandatory federal mine safety and health standards, conspiracy to impede federal mine safety officials, making false statements to the United States Securities and Exchange Commission and securities fraud.

The mix of metallurgical coal that came from the UBB centered group of mines made millions for Blankenship from Jan. 1, 2008, to April 10, 2010, according to the indictment. In 2009, the group of mines generated $331 million, making up 14 percent percent of Massey’s $2.3 billion in revenue that year. The UBB mines were projected to bring in $432 million in 2010, 16 percent of all Massey revenue. The longwall section at UBB, where the explosion occurred, could produce $600,000 a day.

The indictment alleges Blankenship was driven by the numbers and in doing so ignored dozens of safety violations at UBB and covered up others. Federal prosecutors said from April 3, 2009, to April 5, 2010, Blankenship received 249 daily safety violation reports from the UBB mines but did very little to correct the problems.

Instead, according to the indictment, Blankenship continued to push the a UBB executive for more production. In a March 19, 2009 memo Blankenship wrote “UBB’s miner sections are a mitigated [sic] disaster.” That same month the executive heard from an angry Blankenship who told him, “You have a kid to feed. Do your job.”

The indictment alleges Blankenship knew UBB had coal dust and ventilation problems, two things federal investigators said enhanced the UBB explosion, but he ignored them. According to the indictment:

“Blankenship’s imposition and aggressive enforcement of coal-production quotas that deprived UBB’s coal miners of the time they needed to construct and maintain ventilation control structures, and that forced them to operate even where air quantities were below legal minimums; Blankenship’s direction, addressed below, not to construct certain ventilation controls that would produce more reliable airflow because constructing them diverted time from coal production; and Blankenship’s denial, also addressed below, of a request to construct an airshaft at UBB that would have increased airflow to areas of the mine where it was often below the legal minimum.”

Blankenship, according to prosecutors, would at times receive hourly reports on UBB’s production and in some cases was even faxed the hourly reports at home during the weekends.

The indictment also details the conspiracy of how underground supervisors at UBB were alerted that a federal mine inspector was on site for a ‘surprise’ inspection. The word would first come from the front gate, passed to the mine entrance and then by telephone to underground supervisors who would instruct workers to cover up safety violations. In some cases, because of the size of UBB, it would take investigators two hours to reach certain sections of the mine.

In the days after the UBB explosion, while Massey’s stock price was plummeting, prosecutors allege Blankenship worked with a public relations firm on a statement to give to the SEC stating the company did “not condone any violation of MSHA regulations” and “we [Massey] strive to be in compliance with all regulations at all times.” Prosecutors allege Blankenship knew the statement was false and fraudulent, committing securities fraud.

If convicted on all four counts, Blankenship could receive a maximum of 31 years in prison. He is scheduled to have an initial appearance before a U.S. Magistrate Judge in Beckley Federal Court in the near future.

The investigation in the aftermath of the UBB tragedy has already led to four convictions form the office of U.S. Attorney Goodwin.

“We’re going to take this investigation wherever it leads to whomever it leads,” Goodwin said following the Sept. 2013 sentencing of former Massey executive David Hughart. He was sentenced to three and a half years in prison for impeding MSHA and taking part in the conspiracy to alert workers of the pending inspections.

Massey Energy was purchased by Alpha Natural Resources months after the UBB tragedy. Alpha settled with the federal government for $209 million and agreed to establish a mine safety academy. The academy opened last year in Boone County.

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Comments

  • WVU 74

    May 29, 2009 -- Ohio State University President E. Gordon Gee announced his resignation from the Board of Massey Energy. Gee served 9 years on the Massey Energy Board of Directors.

  • Stupid Hillbillies

    Booth "m0r0n's hand up his rear" Goodwin fires the next salvo in the m0r0n's War on Coal.

    Wonder who the co-conspirators are? After all it does require two to play in a conspiracy, and like one remark below stated, this will have a change in venue due to the malicious assaults the hillbillies have maliciously been making.

  • Aaron

    Personally, I think he should share a cell with every negligent MSHA official, particularly those who were remiss in sending out shutdown notices for pattern of violations, up to and including Joe Main.

    Government officials will never go after government officials though, no matter how complicit they are the tragedy at UBB.

  • Ron from Morgantown

    Christmas has come early for all of West Virginia . Thank you Booth Goodwin !

    • cutty77

      Booth Goodwin wants to be Governor of West Virginia,and I'm sure everybody knows what party he is a part of.

  • The bookman

    If in fact Goodwin has his case in order against Blankenship, and I would bet the house he has it in spades, then I would love to be present when they take him into custody. If not, I can always watch this:

    http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=iRdTetA_Dqo

  • sammy

    I only hope that justice will proceed without interference from politicians. This man deserves to be behind bars and to be stripped of all the money he has banked in off shore accounts.

  • Jim N Charleston

    He'll walk. He is smarter than anyone involved in his prosecution working for the FEDS

    All I got
    I'm Jim N 2 Deer Hunting right now & its COLD
    L8

    • Hop'sHip

      Just like you, Jim, he probably believes he is smarter than everyone else and maybe, like someday you may learn, that is a delusion,

    • Brian

      Toughen up, Jim! If you want the big one, you have to sacrifice.

      And I agree. He's smarter than anyone who has ever gone up against him, but I don't know if he'll survive this. Massey dumped him, thus nutting his position in the coal industry. He doesn't have the muscle anymore.

      • Jim N Charleston

        Dawg, Don is s real life version of JR Ewing. Like JR, Death will be the only deal he won't win.

        Blankenship is the Teflon Don, nothing sticks. The government can indict a ham sandwich. Convicting one is harder.

        All I got
        I'm Jim N 2 Hunting & it's colder than a well diggers @$$
        L8

        • just sayin

          Jim N you got that WV fatalistic attitude that gives up and moves WV down the path of least resistance.

  • WV FAN

    What a joke? This is America nothing happens to CEO's here... mark my words, this is a waist of time to even talk about this CEO being indicted ...

    Don Blankenship likes West Virginians & West Virginia & why not?

  • arp

    The comments here are proof he could not get a fair trial in West Virginia. The left wing media long ago accused him, tried him and condemned him. He offended them when he took on the corrupt, anti-business Democrat machine and the unions like no one else had dared to do in 80 years.

    • Randy

      80 years ago the union was fighting for what was right. And 40 and 50 years ago union miners were dying because coal companies cared more about profit than keeping miners alive. The union might have become a disgrace in the last 30 years, but we see what happened when Blankenship and Massey got to do things on their terms.

    • Daniel

      So, arp, it doesn't matter to you that Mr. Blankenship maybe, just maybe, may be guilty of a crime in this matter?

      • arp

        Have you ever heard of "innocent until proven guilty?"

    • richard

      Bla, bla, bla, liberal media, bla, Obama, bla, bla, liberals, bla, bla, democrats, bla, left wing media, bla, bla, war on coal, bla bla, anti business democrat, bla, Obama, bla, bla.........

  • Mountaineer

    FINALLY This SCUM Gets what he deserves. Hope You like Penis, and Prison Food Don.

  • richard

    Good!!! Couldn't happen to a better crook.
    Maybe Capito and Jenkins can help you. After all, you helped elect them.

    • Wow

      Not a chance, no one wants near this p.o.s.
      Use another place to cry about the election. You have to look back farther than Capito and Jenkins to find the who was in Don's pocket.

  • Jim Slade

    This report will surprise many:

    http://www.npr.org/2014/11/12/363058646/coal-mines-keep-operating-despite-injuries-violations-and-millions-in-fines

    • WV Common Tater

      Interesting. However, Arch Coal wasn't mentioned as a non-payer.

  • GregG

    It is to bad we are not allowed to use high limbs and short ropes, this is what this scum should be swinging from.

  • Matt T.

    Pucker up Don. Hopefully justice will be served!

  • the flying dutchman

    did you ever think you would see this day? knowing goodwin, as a general rule he does not oftenfire blanks...