US Seeks Maximum—If Paltry—Sentence for 'Cold-Blooded' Coal CEO

Saying coal baron Donald L. Blankenship made a “cold-blooded decision to gamble with the lives of the men and women who worked for him,” the U.S. government on Monday requested the maximum sentence of one year in prison for the man once described as the “poster boy for malevolent big business.”

Blankenship, former Massey Energy CEO, was found guilty of a misdemeanor conspiracy to violate mine safety laws in December. An explosion at Massey’s Upper Big Branch (UBB) Mine in southern West Virginia killed 29 men in 2010.

“What punishment can suffice for wrongdoing so monstrous?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby wrote in an 11-page court filing (pdf) Monday evening.

The sentencing brief skewered impunity for white-collar criminals, as it continued:

Unfortunately, Ruby acknowledged, federal law says that willfully violating mine safety and health standards “is worth, at most, a year in prison”—a punishment he calls “woefully inadequate.”

But under the law’s constraints, anything less than a year in jail would be laughable, he said.

“Given the magnitude of Defendant’s crime, a sentence shorter than the maximum could only be interpreted as a declaration that mine safety laws are not to be taken seriously,” he warned. “A year in prison for what Defendant did is paltry enough. Anything less would undermine the basic requirements of sentencing.”

Robert Weissman, president of the watchdog group Public Citizen, agreed in a statement issued Tuesday:

The brief—which corporate crime writer Russell Mokhiber says “is like no other sentencing memo in the history of corporate crime”—also calls for the “fabulously wealthy” Blankenship to pay a $250,000 fine.