On Wednesday, Donald Blankenship, former CEO of Massey Energy Company, was sentenced to one year in prison for conspiring to violate federal mine safety standards, a misdemeanor charge he was convicted of in December. Blankenship will also be fined $250,000 and be subject to a year of supervision upon his release from prison.
The sentence was announced six years and one day after a coal dust explosion at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia killed 29 coal workers and seriously injured the only two survivors. Investigators found the cause of the explosion to be poor ventilation, which allowed for gases to accumulate and, eventually, combust.
It was the deadliest coal mining accident in the United States in 40 years. Blankenship is the most prominent American coal executive to be sentenced for a crime related to mining deaths.
Once known as West Virginia’s “King of Coal,” Blankenship was paid a cool $18 million in 2009—his last year as CEO of Massey Energy before the explosion. (What for is anyone’s guess.) Massey Energy—then the fourth largest coal company in the country—had received thousands of safety citations before the blast at Upper Big Branch, according to the Justice Department. Fifty citations were issued in the month leading up to the explosion.
At the time of Blankenship’s conviction, Labor Secretary Thomas Perez told the New York Times that the decision sent, “a clear message that no mine operator is above the law, that there must be accountability when people lose their lives because of the neglect of their employer.”
The New York Times reports that before receiving his sentence Blankenship told the court, “My main point is wanting to express sorrow to the families and everyone for what happened.” However, expressing remorse was one step too far for Blankenship, who added, “I am not guilty of a crime.”