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Former coal boss Don Blankenship: 'I am an American Political Prisoner'

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Former coal boss Don Blankenship: 'I am an American Political Prisoner'

Convicted coal boss Don Blankenship has issued a publicstatement from prison indicating that he will be distributing a booklet that"willshed some truthful light on what really happened to cause the UBB explosion,and how horribly broken our American judicial system has become."

"Politicians put me in prison for political andself-serving reasons," the former CEO of Massey Energy wrote. "I aman American Political Prisoner."

Blankenship is currently serving a one-year prison sentence in aCalifornia federal corrections facility. His indictment on multiple charges andhis ultimate conviction on a misdemeanor of conspiring to violatemine safety laws stem from an investigation into the explosion that killed 29coal miners at the Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia.

He was acquitted on felony charges of securities fraud and lying to investors aboutthe company's safety practices. In his 68-page booklet, Blankenship paintshimself as the victim of an unfair legal, regulatory and political process.

SNL Image

An attorney points to the map of the Upper Big Branch mine where 29 men died.

Photo by Sarah Smith

"Essentially I am in federal prison because [ Steve Ruby] believesthat the [Upper Big Branch] mine should have had a few more miners, and thatnot having those miners caused safety violations to occur," Blankenship'sstatement reads.  "Violations written by the Mine Safety and HealthAdministration as 'non-willful' civil violations, which Ruby says were'willful' criminal violations because more miners would have prevented many ofthem. The appealscourt will decide whether having less miners (how many less Ruby did not say)than Ruby thinks were needed is a federal crime."

Blankenship also insists on his website that MSHA issued a"false investigation report following the UBB explosion."

"You can be sure I am fully innocent," Blankenshipsaid. "In fact, more than 100% innocent. I spent my life improving coalminer safety and exercising my right to free speech. I was not involved in anyconspiracy to commit mine safety violations. But I have been involved in tryingto bring opportunity to West Virginians. The real conspiracies were thegovernment's cover-up of the [Upper Big Branch] truth and my prosecution."

He again reasserted his prior theory that the "explosion was a highly unusualnatural gas explosion and was not propagated by coal dust as MSHAclaimed." The theory has been dismissed by an independent, state,federal and union-led investigation into the incident, though Blankenship has soughtto prove otherwise with his own experts, even creating a about the incident.

Tony Oppegard, a Kentucky mine attorney, said in a recentinterview that there is a tendency in the coal industry to resign to the notionthat disasters are not manmade. He believes there should be stiffer penaltiesfor the sorts of crimes Blankenship was convicted of if there is going to be aneffect on the safety of miners.

"There'salways been this culture of acceptance that mining is a hazardous occupation —that it is inherently dangerous and we have to expect and accept a certainlevel of carnage in order to mine which is a sad proposition," Oppegardsaid. "But I think it's true, it's been pushed by companies throughout theyears. That's why for every major disaster you hear coal companies say it wasan act of God."

MSHA and prosecutors involved with Don Blankenship's case didnot immediately respond to requests for comment. In a recent interview withS&P Global Market Intelligence, former U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin saidBlankenship "got every bit, if not morejustice, than he was due" when it came to the legal process.

"This was not a wild harethat we went off on," Goodwin said of the investigation. "Masseydeveloped a very substantial body of work demonstrating their disregard for thelaw. … I do think the fact that he was convicted and the crime of which he wasconvicted will and has already sent a very clear and powerful message that ifyou as a manager, in any sort of industrial operation, that you need to be verycareful to make sure that the safety of your workers is paramount."

In direct response toBlankenship's recent actions, Goodwin called the action "more Blankenshippropaganda."

"Blankenshipwas convicted by a jury of his peers of willfully violating mine safety laws —laws designed to keep miners safe," Goodwin said. "They are the samelaws that if broken, cause deadly mine explosions like the one that tragicallykilled 29 miners at [Upper Big Branch]. Blankenship is in prison because of hisgreed, his arrogance, and his criminal behavior. This most recent stunt showsthat he still has not learned this lesson: if you gamble with miners lives, youdeserve to go to prison."

Blankenship is scheduled for an Oct. 26 court hearing before theFourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Massey Energy was purchased by after the explosion. After bankruptcy, much of Alpha's top assets, includingsafety facilities built as a result of settling legal matters regarding theexplosion, were transferred to Contura Energy, Inc.