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Former coal CEO Don Blankenship gets maximum jail sentence, fine

Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship has received the , one-year penalty for hisconviction on a misdemeanor charge of conspiring to violate mine safety laws.

Blankenship was investigated following the explosion of the UpperBig Branch coal mine that killed 29 coal miners in West Virginia. U.S. DistrictCourt for the Southern District of West Virginia Judge Irene Berger sentenced himto one year and an additional year on supervised release.

U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez said the situation was a"clear case of the punishment not fitting the crime." He urged Congressto strengthen mine safety penalties.

"This sentence proves that no mine operatoris above the law, and should send a strong signal to unscrupulous employers thatskirt safety rules," Perez said. "No prison sentence and no amount ofmoney can bring back the 29 men who lost their lives at Upper Big Branch, but mysincere hope is that this sentence can offer some measure of closure for the familiesof those miners."

According to the Charleston(W.Va.) Gazette Mail, the judge tookinto consideration enhancements on Blankenship's sentencing guidelines related toabusing his position of trust in his executive role and organizing criminal activitywith more than five participants.

Berger did not consider a claim that prosecutors had pushed regardinga possible obstruction of justice. Citing the importance of safety, the judge alsoissued Blankenship the maximum fine of $250,000.

Blankenship was convictedon a misdemeanor count of conspiring to violate mine safety laws, but a jury clearedfelony charges brought by the prosecutors. The government was seeking the maximumpenalty for his conviction. Blankenship's defense has already hinted at an appeal.

According to court documents, Blankenship was released on priorbond and allowed to self-report to serve his term. An earlier motion to continuehis release pending appeal was denied.

Massey was bought by AlphaNatural Resources Inc., which was recently denied a $27.8 million restitution claim in the case. Alpha is in the middleof a Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization.It is seeking to reorganize core assets into a sustainable enterprise while preparingits other mines to focus on reclamation efforts.