Friday, November 21, 2014

Blankenship pleads not guilty, released on $5 million bond

Former Massey Energy president and CEO Don Blankenship will face a January trial date in connection with the Upper Big Branch mine explosion that killed 29 miners in Raleigh County.
As family members of the UBB tragedy looked on Thursday in federal court, Blankenship pleaded not guilty to federal charges of conspiracy, fraud and making false statements to investigators. His trial was scheduled for Jan. 26 with a pretrial hearing on Jan. 6.
Blankenship’s bond was set at $5 million. U.S. Magistrate Judge R. Clarke VanDervort refused to release Blankenship on a personal recognizance bond. The judge limited travel for Blankenship to southern West Virginia, Pike County, Ky., and Washington, D.C. to meet with his attorneys. Blankenship, who faces up to 31 years in prison, also had to surrender his passport.
There were no comments made by federal prosecutors, defense attorneys or family members after the court proceedings. U.S. District Judge Irene Berger enacted a gag order on the case last week.

Federal prosecutors allege Blankenship knew about the myriad of safety problems at the Upper Big Branch mine in the months leading up to the massive explosion in April 2010 that killed 29 miners. The charges allege Blankenship conspired to cover up the problems so the mine could produce more coal and profits.