DON BLANKENSHIP CASE ; Defense Lawyers Dispute Case for UBB Restitution Filing Says Conviction Can't Be Used to Make Blankenship Pay Restitution for Deaths of 29 Miners at Upper Big Branch

By Ward, Ken | Charleston Gazette Mail, December 19, 2015 | Go to article overview

DON BLANKENSHIP CASE ; Defense Lawyers Dispute Case for UBB Restitution Filing Says Conviction Can't Be Used to Make Blankenship Pay Restitution for Deaths of 29 Miners at Upper Big Branch


Ward, Ken, Charleston Gazette Mail


Lawyers for Don Blankenship argued Friday that the former Massey Energy CEO's conviction for conspiracy to violate mine safety and health standards can't force him to pay restitution related to the April 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners at Massey's Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County. Defense lawyers said in a new court filing that Blankenship wasn't charged with - let alone convicted of - causing the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster, and therefore prosecutors are wrong to suggest his sentencing later this year could result in financially crippling restitution payments to families of the miners who were killed or to Alpha Natural Resources, which bought Massey after the deadly explosion.

"Simply put, costs arising from the UBB explosion are not harms caused by the offense of conviction,' and the government is estopped from arguing otherwise at sentencing, defense lawyer Blair Brown said in the new filing.

Defense lawyers made their new filing in reply to a legal brief filed earlier in the week in which Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby argued that Blankenship's conditions of pre-sentence release should not be lessened because the potential for "financially disastrous consequences at sentencing created a risk that Blankenship might flee and not appear to be sentenced.

Blankenship wants U.S. Magistrate Judge R. Clarke VanDervort to reduce his bond from $5 million to $250,000 and remove a release condition that generally restricts him to living in southern West Virginia and not leaving the region unless he travels to Washington, D.C., to meet with his lawyers or gets prior approval from the court for specific other travel. VanDervort already approved Blankenship taking a nearly three-week trip to Las Vegas - where Blankenship says he currently lives - for the holidays.

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 is also a misdemeanor, carrying a maximum prison sentence of one year.

The jury acquitted him of two felony counts that alleged a false statement and securities fraud. …

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