Feds Rewrite Indictment for Ex-CEO’s Mine Explosion Role

CHARLESTON, W.  VA. —The federal government rewrote the indictment of Don Blankenship on March 10th. The new indictment combines two conspiracy counts into one for his role in the Upper Branch mine explosion that killed 29 workers five years ago as former CEO of Massey Energy. The preliminary hearing will be held on March 24th and the trial will begin on April 6th.


Last November, the U.S. attorney for West Virginia indicted Blankenship on various counts of violating mine safety and health laws, conspiracy to violate those laws, obstructing investigations of federal mine safety officials, making false statements to the Securities and Exchange Commission, and securities fraud.


In addition to rewriting the indictment, the gag order imposed on the case last year by U.S. District Judge Irene Berger has been lifted. The gag order previously prevented the families of the dead miners from discussing the company’s actions publically.


Now, everyone involved in the explosion, including the families of the workers killed in the blast, their attorneys will be able to start telling prosecutors and the media about the explosion and aftermath. Lifting the gag order also allows families of the dead miners to testify before the GOP-run West Virginia lawmakers in hearings on corporate-backed legislation to gut the state’s mine safety laws and put into place anti-labor union laws.


Although the Upper Big Branch mine was non-union, UMW stepped in at the families’ request to address mine safety and advocate on their behalf.


“West Virginia is always at or near the top in the number of miners who are killed on the job every year, and we have more miners working in the dangerous underground environment than any other state.  They need every single protection they can possibly have, especially those who work at nonunion mines and do not have the ability to speak up for themselves without fear of getting fired,” the union said.


“As long as miners continue to die in West Virginia’s mines, we need to be looking for ways to strengthen health and safety protections, not gut them,” UMW added.