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Coal Baron Don Blankenship Found Guilty of Conspiracy

The head of a former Richmond energy firm was linked to a deadly mine disaster.

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Donald L. Blankenship, former head of now-defunct Massey Energy that was headquartered in Richmond until 2011, was found guilty today of a misdemeanor conspiracy charge that he dodged federal mine safety regulation relating to a deadly mine explosion in West Virginia in 2010.

Blankenship, 65, also was found not guilty of two felony counts of making false statements involving safety violations that led to the explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine that killed 29 miners. It was the worst coal mine disaster in the United States in 40 years.

After becoming head of Massey Energy in 2000, Blankenship built a reputation for controversy by bankrolling politicians and vacationing with state judges while attacking labor union members and environmentalists.

The tall, jowly man succeeded E. Morgan Massey of Richmond as head of the company. The Massey family has been a major player in Richmond philanthropy, funding such institutions as the Massey Cancer Center.

Massey Energy was sold for $7.1 billion in June 2011 to Alpha Natural Resources, a Bristol, Virginia, company that is now in bankruptcy.

Blankenship’s trial, which got international attention, began Oct. 1. It took a jury of eight women and four men 10 days to reach a verdict.

Had Blankenship been found guilty of all charges, he would have faced up to 30 years in prison. Since he was convicted only of a misdemeanor charge, he faces up to a year in jail.

Read more of Style Weekly's coverage of Massey Energy and the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster here.

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