UPDATE: Judge Upholds Most of Gag Order in Don Blankenship Case

Courtesy: Patrick Williams/WVVA
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Don Blankenship Indictment

UPDATE 1/7/15 @ 8:55 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- A judge is upholding most of a gag order in a criminal case against ex-Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship, who was in charge of the Upper Big Branch mine when it exploded and killed 29 men.

U.S. District Judge Irene Berger wrote Wednesday that she needs much of the gag order to keep prospective jurors unbiased.

Berger says she will make more documents public, however, including opinions and orders. Documents with information or arguments related to case facts and substance will remain sealed.

She is also still restricting attorneys or relatives of victims from discussing the case with reporters or releasing court documents. The Associated Press and other news media outlets have challenged the gag order.

Blankenship is charged with conspiring to violate safety and health standards at the Upper Big Branch Mine.



UPDATE 12/17/14 @ 11:45 a.m.
BECKLEY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Former Massey Energy Executive Don Blankenship was back in federal court Wednesday, in connection with a gag order that was filed in a case involving the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster case.

Blankenship is facing federal charges in connection with the explosion that killed 29 miners in 2010.

A gag order was filed in the case restricting parties or victims from discussing the case. In court Wednesday, Judge Irene Berger heard arguments asking for her to drop or modify the order.

Judge Berger says she will rule on the motion at a later date.

During the hearing, Blankenship's attorneys asked for the trial, originally set for next month, to be postponed. The attorneys say they plan to filed 15-20 motions in the case, including motions to dismiss the case, as well as a change of venue. They asked for more time to work on the motions.

Judge Berger granted the motion, but did not set a new date.

Blankenship was in court for the hearing.

Keep clicking on the WSAZ app or WSAZ.com for the latest on this story.



UPDATE 11/20/14 @ 2:45 p.m.
BECKLEY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship posted a $5M bond after he pleaded not guilty to four federal charges on Thursday.

Last week Blankenship was indicted on federal charges in connection to the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster where 29 miners were killed in April of 2010.

During his arraignment, Blankenship pleaded not guilty. The judge set his pre-trial for January 6 at 1 p.m. and his trial for January 26 at 9 a.m.

After a short recess, Blankenship had a bond hearing where the judge also restricted his travel until his trial. Under the judge's orders, Blankenship is only allow to travel to southern West Virginia, Pike County, Ky. and Washington D.C. to meet with his attorneys.

A gag order was put in place last week that bars anyone involved from discussing details of the case.

Family members of the victims' of the UBB disaster attended Thursday's hearing.

Extra security was also at the courthouse for the hearing. Our crew at the courthouse says courthouse security was outside, along with officers from Homeland Security.

According to the indictment, investigators say between January 2008 and April 2010, Blankenship could've stopped most violations, but instead encouraged dangerous practices to produce more coal and avoid expensive safety measures.

The federal documents show Blankenship rewarded and didn't punish mine executives who committed or caused ongoing violations.

The indictments said Upper Big Branch Mine, considered the worst violator of all Massey mines, was cited 835 times for safety and health violations between 2008 and 2010.

283 violations were linked to ventilation problems, a system important to prevent mine explosions.

Last week Blankenship's attorney, William W. Taylor, III released a statement to WSAZ, saying "Don Blankenship has been a tireless advocate for mine safety. His outspoken criticism of powerful bureaucrats has earned this indictment. He will not yield to their effort to silence him. He will not be intimidated,"

If convicted, Blankenship could face up to 31 years in prison.

Keep clicking on the WSAZ app and WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 11/20/14 @ 1:35 p.m.
BECKLEY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship pleaded not guilty to four federal charges during a hearing in Beckley Thursday.

Last week Blankenship was indicted on federal charges in connection to the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster where 29 miners were killed in April of 2010.

Also during the hearing Thursday, the judge set his pre-trial for January 6 at 1 p.m. Blankenship's trial is set for January 26 at 9 a.m.

Blankenship has a second hearing at 2 p.m. in Beckley. According to the docket, this will be a bond hearing.

A gag order was put in place that bars anyone involved from discussing details of the case.

Family members of the victims' of the UBB disaster attended Thursday's hearing.

Extra security is at the courthouse for the hearing. Our crew at the courthouse says courthouse security is outside, along with officers from Homeland Security.

According to the indictment, investigators say between January 2008 and April 2010, Blankenship could've stopped most violations, but instead encouraged dangerous practices to produce more coal and avoid expensive safety measures.

The federal documents show Blankenship rewarded and didn't punish mine executives who committed or caused ongoing violations.

The indictments said Upper Big Branch Mine, considered the worst violator of all Massey mines, was cited 835 times for safety and health violations between 2008 and 2010.

283 violations were linked to ventilation problems, a system important to prevent mine explosions.

Last week Blankenship's attorney, William W. Taylor, III released a statement to WSAZ, saying "Don Blankenship has been a tireless advocate for mine safety. His outspoken criticism of powerful bureaucrats has earned this indictment. He will not yield to their effort to silence him. He will not be intimidated,"

If convicted, Blankenship could face up to 31 years in prison.

We have a crew at the federal courthouse in Beckley. Keep clicking on the WSAZ app and WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 11/20/14 @ 11:15 a.m.
BECKLEY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship is expected to be in court Thursday afternoon on federal charges.

Last week Blankenship was indicted on federal charges in connection to the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster where 29 miners were killed in April of 2010.

A gag order was put in place that bars anyone involved from discussing details of the case.

According to court records, Blankenship has two hearings scheduled at the federal courthouse in Beckley. His arraignment hearing is scheduled for 1 p.m. Then, a bond hearing is set for 2 p.m.

Family members of the victims' of the UBB disaster have arrived at the courthouse to attend the hearings.

Extra security is at the courthouse in preparation of the hearing. Our crew at the courthouse says courthouse security is outside, along with officers from Homeland Security.

According to the indictment, investigators say between January 2008 and April 2010, Blankenship could've stopped most violations, but instead encouraged dangerous practices to produce more coal and avoid expensive safety measures.

The federal documents show Blankenship rewarded and didn't punish mine executives who committed or caused ongoing violations.

The indictments said Upper Big Branch Mine, considered the worst violator of all Massey mines, was cited 835 times for safety and health violations between 2008 and 2010.

283 violations were linked to ventilation problems, a system important to prevent mine explosions.

Last week Blankenship's attorney, William W. Taylor, III released a statement to WSAZ, saying "Don Blankenship has been a tireless advocate for mine safety. His outspoken criticism of powerful bureaucrats has earned this indictment. He will not yield to their effort to silence him. He will not be intimidated,"

If convicted, Blankenship could face up to 31 years in prison.

We have a crew at the federal courthouse in Beckley. Keep clicking on the WSAZ app and WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 11/11/14 @ 6:15 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A gag order has been issued in connection with the federal indictment of former Massey CEO Don Blankenship.

Judge Irene C. Berger issued the gag order Friday, due to pretrial publicity.

In the order, Judge Berger said this is a necessary precaution so they can "seat jurors who can be fair and impartial and whose verdict is based only upon evidence presented during trial."

Blankenship was indicted on four felony counts Thursday in connection with the deadly Upper Big Branch Mine accident that killed 29 miners in April 2010.

Blankenship was indicted on four felony counts Thursday in connection with the deadly Upper Big Branch Mine accident that killed 29 miners in April 2010.

"He needs to pay for what he's done," said John Runyon, who worked at a Massey Energy owned mine for two years.

Runyon left that job seven years ago, because he said he didn't feel safe working there, and that safety was an afterthought for Don Blankenship.

"The safety stopped at the drift mouth. They preached safety, but you hit the drift mouth, and it's all over."

Blankenship's attorney, William W. Taylor, III released a statement to WSAZ, saying "Don Blankenship has been a tireless advocate for mine safety. His outspoken criticism of powerful bureaucrats has earned this indictment."

Gary Rush, the founder of East Equipment Company in Mingo County, says he agrees that the indictment is all about politics, and that the former Massey CEO was a major supporter of mine safety.

"For these people to come out with a political agenda and to push this man down ... I don't understand it," Rush said. "He is a very tough man to work for. But safety; he pushes it to the brink."

Rush's company worked closely with Massey Energy on a number of jobs. One time, in 2007, he says some of his employees weren't wearing safety glasses, and Blankenship took action.

"Immediately, he stopped us from working, until we got the proper equipment to work with. It was one of the good lessons I learned real quick from Mr. Blankenship."



UPDATE 11/14/14 @ 11:50 a.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship is expected to be in federal court next week to answer charges he faces in connection with the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster in April 2010.

Blankenship was indicted on four counts Wednesday, all pointing to his repeated actions leading to safety violations, as well as making false statements and misleading federal inspectors, according to the indictment.

According to court records, a hearing has been set in Beckley on November 20 at 1:00 p.m.

Blankenship was the CEO of Massey Energy when 29 miners were killed at the Upper Big Branch Mine in April 2010.

According to the indictment, investigators say between January 2008 and April 2010, Blankenship could've stopped most violations, but instead encouraged dangerous practices to produce more coal and avoid expensive safety measures.

The federal documents show Blankenship rewarded and didn't punish mine executives who committed or caused ongoing violations.

The indictments said Upper Big Branch Mine, considered the worst violator of all Massey mines, was cited 835 times for safety and health violations between 2008 and 2010.

283 violations were linked to ventilation problems, a system important to prevent mine explosions.

William W. Taylor, III said Blankenship is "entirely innocent of these charges."

"He will fight them and he will be acquitted. Don Blankenship has been a tireless advocate for mine safety. His outspoken criticism of powerful bureaucrats has earned this indictment. He will not yield to their effort to silence him. He will not be intimidated," according to the release.

If convicted on all four counts, Blankenship faces 31 years behind bars.

One page of the indictment documents said after the deadly April 2010 explosion, a federal investigation found a major violation inside the mines.

It said several important water sprayers inside the mines, meant to cool off explosive coal dust, were clogged.

The documents also said in 2009, an inspector discovered airflow was nowhere close to where it was supposed to be in an area of the mine, only flowing at about 1.6% the required rate.

They also said proper ventilation was imperative to preventing explosions.

Keep clicking on the WSAZ app and WSAZ.com for the latest on this story.



UPDATE 11/14/14 @ 10 a.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Don Blankenship's attorney has released a statement following a four-count federal indictment brought down against him Thursday.

William W. Taylor, III said Blankenship is "entirely innocent of these charges."

"He will fight them and he will be acquitted. Don Blankenship has been a tireless advocate for mine safety. His outspoken criticism of powerful bureaucrats has earned this indictment. He will not yield to their effort to silence him. He will not be intimidated," according to the release.

Blankenship, the former CEO of Massey Energy is charged in connection with the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster, where 29 miners were killed in April 2010.

He's indicted on four counts, all pointing to his repeated actions leading to safety violations, as well as making false statements and misleading federal inspectors.

The documents said between January 2008 and April 2010, Blankenship could've stopped most violations, but instead encouraged dangerous practices to produce more coal and avoid expensive safety measures.

The federal documents show Blankenship rewarded and didn't punish mine executives who committed or caused ongoing violations.

The indictments said Upper Big Branch Mine, considered the worst violator of all Massey mines, was cited 835 times for safety and health violations between 2008 and 2010.

283 violations were linked to ventilation problems, a system important to prevent mine explosions.

If convicted on all four counts, Blankenship faces 31 years behind bars.

One page of the indictment documents said after the deadly April 2010 explosion, a federal investigation found a major violation inside the mines.

It said several important water sprayers inside the mines, meant to cool off explosive coal dust, were clogged.

The documents also said in 2009, an inspector discovered airflow was nowhere close to where it was supposed to be in an area of the mine, only flowing at about 1.6% the required rate.

They also said proper ventilation was imperative to preventing explosions.

Keep clicking on the WSAZ app and WSAZ.com for the latest on this story.



UPDATE 11/13/14 @ 10:37 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The former chief of Massey Energy has been indicted in connection with the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster where 29 miners died in April 2010.

Don Blankenship is accused on four counts, all connected to his part in repeated violations connected to the deadly Upper Big Branch Mine explosion.

"It is my hope someday I can watch Don Blankenship hauled off in shackles and sent to jail for the murder of these 29 men," Del. Mike Caputo said in 2012.

Following four years of high emotions, new federal court documents accuse former Massey Energy CEO, Don Blankenship, of his part in the deaths of 29 miners in the Upper Big Branch mine explosion.

He's indicted on four counts, all pointing to his repeated actions leading to safety violations, as well as making false statements and misleading federal inspectors.

Blankenship dismissed the violations in his documentary, "Upper Big Branch: Never Again".

"The violations that were written at UBB had nothing to do with the explosion," he said.

The documents said between January 2008 and April 2010, Blankenship could've stopped most violations, but instead encouraged dangerous practices to produce more coal and avoid expensive safety measures.

The federal documents show Blankenship rewarded and didn't punish mine executives who committed or caused ongoing violations.

The indictments said Upper Big Branch Mine, considered the worst violator of all Massey mines, was cited 835 times for safety and health violations between 2008 and 2010.

283 violations were linked to ventilation problems, a system important to prevent mine explosions.

Despite the history of citations, in his documentary, Blankenship said other factors were at work.

"This was a natural gas explosion, it's clear that it was," he said.

If convicted on all four counts, Blankenship faces 31 years behind bars.

One page of the indictment documents said after the deadly April 2010 explosion, a federal investigation found a major violation inside the mines.

It said several important water sprayers inside the mines, meant to cool off explosive coal dust, were clogged.

The documents also said in 2009, an inspector discovered airflow was nowhere close to where it was supposed to be in an area of the mine, only flowing at about 1.6% the required rate.

They also said proper ventilation was imperative to preventing explosions.

WSAZ has reached out to Don Blankenship and his attorney for comment. Our calls have not been returned.

We'll keep working to get his side of the story.

Keep clicking on the WSAZ App and WSAZ.com for more on this developing story.


ORIGINAL STORY 11/13/14 @ 6:21 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The former chief of Massey Energy has been indicted in connection with the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster where 29 miners died in April 2010.

The 47 page indictment was filed on Thursday.

Blankenship was indicted by a federal grand jury on four counts.

According to the federal indictment, Blankenship has been charged with conspiracy to willfully violate mandatory mine safety and healthy standards. The indictment alleges that Blankenship put profits ahead of safety.

The second count; conspiracy to defraud the United States saying that he hampered or impeded the functions of the department of labor, MSHA and the administration at Upper Big Branch.

The indictment states that he made false statements by saying that Massey strives to be in compliance at all times.

According to the indictment, Blankenship knew that UBB was committing hundreds of safety law violations every year and that he had the ability to prevent most of the violations that UBB was committing. The indictment says he fostered and participated in an understanding that perpetuated UBB's practice of routine safety violations, in order to produce more coal, avoid the costs of following safety laws, and make more money.

The indictment also alleges Blankenship made and caused to be made, materially false and misleading statements and representations, regarding his and Massey's practice of willful violations of safety laws at that mine.

These included false statements and representations made to the United States Securities and Exchange Commission ("SEC") and materially false statements and representations, and materially misleading omissions, made in connection with the purchase and sale of Massey stock.

According to a news release, if convicted Blankenship faces up to 31 years in prison.

The FBI and the United States Department of Labor's Office of Inspector General are in charge of the investigation. United States Attorney Booth Goodwin, Counsel to the United States Attorney Steven Ruby, and Assistant United States Attorney Gabriele Wohl are handling the prosecution.

“I’ve always had complete faith that justice would be served and Don Blankenship’s indictment today is a first step in providing some peace to the families of the Upper Big Branch miners who lost their lives,” U.S. Senator Joe Manchin said in a statement released shortly after the indictment was released.

United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts released a statement Thursday saying, "Today’s announcement that a federal grand jury has returned indictments against Don Blankenship means that the families of the 52 people who were killed on company property while he was CEO of Massey Energy are one step closer to a measure of justice.

“The carnage that was a recurring nightmare at Massey mines during Blankenship’s tenure at the head of that company was unmatched. No other company had even half as many fatalities during that time. No other company compared with Massey’s record of health and safety violations during that time.

“Don Blankenship’s blatant disregard for mine safety and health laws was tragically brought to the nation’s attention when 29 miners were killed at the Upper Big Branch mine on Apr. 5, 2010. All Americans learned what we in the coalfields already knew: For coal miners, working for Massey meant putting your life and your limbs at risk. Indeed, far too many suffered just that fate.

“I commend the U.S. Attorney’s office for following through on its commitment to take the Upper Big Branch investigation to the very top of the Massey corporate structure. Finally, a strong message has been sent to every other coal operator who chooses to violate the law and put the lives of miners at risk. Let justice be served.”

Blankenship is the fourth person charged in connection with the explosion. Gary May, a former superintendent was sentenced to 21 months after pleading guilty to defrauding the government, including disabling a methane gas monitor and falsifying records.

David Hughart, a former Massey Executive, was sentenced to 42 months behind bars after admitting to giving illegal advance warnings of surprise inspections to miners at Massey operations.

And Hughie Stover, a former security chief, was sentenced to three years after being convicted for lying to investigators and ordering a subordinate to destroy documents.

Keep clicking on the WSAZ app and WSAZ.com for more information.



 
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