The 12-page memorandum, entered by Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Ruby, lead prosecutor on the case, asked U.S. District Judge Irene Berger to reject the defense’s request for probation and a fine for Blankenship because even the one-year cap for his misdemeanor conspiracy conviction is “woefully insufficient,” according to Bloomberg.
A lighter sentence, it reportedly added, would be “a declaration that mine safety laws are not to be taken seriously.”
Ruby and the prosecution are also asking Berger to order the maximum fine of $250,000 to Blankenship on April 6, the former executive’s sentencing date.
Blankenship was convicted December 3 of conspiracy to willfully violate mine safety standards; the charges stemmed from the April 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch (UBB) mine in West Virginia that killed 29 workers.
Ruby called the mine a “calamity in the making” and a “powder keg 1,000 feet below the surface, primed to blow at any time.”
Blankenship’s defense team, meanwhile, have countered the prosecution’s push with the filing of more than 100 letters in support of the former CEO’s character, speaking to his support of the surrounding communities and the people that worked for him.
“The defense never contested that Don Blankenship could be blunt and a hard taskmaster, but the truth is that he cares deeply about his family, his community, and the people who worked for him,” defense attorney Blair Brown said in a filed memo.
One of those writing a note praising his character was former Massey official Ben Hatfield; Hatfield was president of International Coal Group (now owned by Arch Coal) at the time of the Sago mine explosion in 2006.
“I’ve been there with him at mine sites in the middle of the night when we experienced a fatal accident,” he said of Blankenship’s level of care for others. “Don always wanted to know what went wrong and how we can prevent it from ever happening again. The Don Blankenship who has been disparaged during the recent trial for his alleged disregard toward mine safety bears no resemblance to the person I have known for over 30 years.
“In this particular case, I believe the emotional stampede for ‘justice’ has overwhelmed any effort to review Don Blankenship’s behavior and record on the basis of facts.”
The case is U.S. v. Blankenship, 14-cr-00244, U.S. District Court, Southern District of West Virginia (Charleston).