Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

BLANKENSHIP TRIAL ; Alpha Wants $28M; Company Says Ex-Massey CEO Owes Restitution

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

BLANKENSHIP TRIAL ; Alpha Wants $28M; Company Says Ex-Massey CEO Owes Restitution

Article excerpt

Alpha Natural Resources plans to ask that former Massey Energy Co. CEO Don Blankenship be forced to pay the company nearly $28 million in criminal restitution as part of Blankenship's upcoming sentencing, defense lawyers revealed in a new federal court filing that opposes the request. Alpha wants U.S. District Judge Irene C. Berger to order Blankenship to compensate the company for the millions of dollars it spent on the government investigation following the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster, for legal fees Alpha paid for at least seven former Massey employees and for more than $10 million in fines that Alpha agreed to pay in a settlement reached after it bought Massey following the deadly explosion.

The Alpha request for compensation from Blankenship is outlined in a letter from Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby to federal Probation Officer Jeff Gwinn, which was made public by Blankenship's defense team as an exhibit to its legal motion and brief arguing that Berger should throw out the company restitution request.

"This is an unprecedented attempt to add draconian penalties to an offense that Congress has classified as a misdemeanor, and Alpha has no right to recover any of these expenditures from Mr. Blankenship as restitution, the defense lawyers said in a court filing on Monday, which was the deadline previously set by Berger for objections to the probation officer's confidential pre-sentence report to the court.

Ruby said the government disagrees with the defense's legal claims and would "respond in more detail in court filings.

Alpha would not comment on the matter.

Blankenship is scheduled to be sentenced by Berger on April 6 in Charleston.

After a two-month trial, a federal jury, on Dec. 3, convicted Blankenship of conspiracy to violate federal mine safety and health standards at the Upper Big Branch Mine, where 29 workers died in an April 2010 explosion.

Under federal mine safety law, willful violation of mine safety standards is a misdemeanor, so conspiracy to commit such violations also is a misdemeanor, carrying a maximum prison sentence of one year.

The jury acquitted Blankenship of two felony counts that alleged a false statement and securities fraud. Jurors also found that the conspiracy he was guilty of involved the goal of violating mine safety standards, not of thwarting government inspectors, which would have been a felony. …

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