CEO of major corporation found guilty of mine safety violations

Defendant allegedly interfered with MSHA inspections

Posted December 8, 2015

On December 3, a federal court jury returned a guilty verdict following the trial of the former chief executive officer (CEO) of a West Virginia-coal mine. The jury found the CEO guilty on a federal charge of conspiracy to willfully violate mine health and safety standards, which led to a 2010 explosion that killed 29 workers.

Over the course of the trial, in which jury selection began on October 1, 2015, the jury heard evidence from 27 witnesses, many of whom were coal miners who worked at the mine prior to the 2010 explosion. The miners testified in detail from their firsthand knowledge of the unsafe working conditions at the mine, violations of Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) regulations, and organized efforts to obstruct and interfere with MSHA inspectors.

The jury also heard from the former manager of technical services at the company, who testified that he warned the CEO about the company’s practice of rampant violations, and told the CEO prior to the explosion that company’s standard tactic of ignoring or defrauding MSHA could not be sustained without the possibility of a serious accident that could have fatalities. The evidence also showed that the former CEO received daily updates on safety violations and helped perpetuate them.

“This is the first time that I am aware of that the chief executive officer of a major corporation has been convicted of a workplace safety crime,” said U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin.

The former CEO faces up to one year in federal prison, and a fine of up to twice the gain or loss that resulted from his conduct, when he is sentenced on March 23, 2016, in federal court in Charleston.

The prosecution was the result of a comprehensive investigation that took over five years to complete. The CEO’s conviction is the fifth criminal conviction credited to this investigation. In addition to the convictions of individuals, the results of the investigation also include a resolution of over $200 million with the company that acquired the mining business. This agreement established a foundation dedicated to mine safety and health research, the first of its kind, and set aside nearly $50 million in funding for the foundation.

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