Thursday, April 07, 2016

Too Rich And Powerful To Jail?


Ken, Gaius, Noah and I have, over the years, written a good number of posts about coal baron/murderer Donald Blankenship, mostly asking why he isn't in prison or when will he be in prison. It's taken a long, long time but yesterday he was finally sentenced to a year in prison-- but not for murder. He's too rich for that. The wrist slap is for "conspiring to violate federal mine safety standards."
The sentencing, in Federal District Court here, came six years and one day after an explosion tore through Massey’s Upper Big Branch mine, killing 29 people. Although Mr. Blankenship was not accused of direct responsibility for the accident, the deadliest in American coal mining in about 40 years, the disaster prompted the federal inquiry that led to Mr. Blankenship’s indictment.

In addition to the year in jail, Mr. Blankenship was fined $250,000 and is subject to a year of supervised release.

“My main point is wanting to express sorrow to the families and everyone for what happened,” Mr. Blankenship said in court before the sentencing. But he added later: “I am not guilty of a crime.”

The Justice Department had urged Judge Irene C. Berger, the daughter of a coal miner, to sentence Mr. Blankenship to a year in prison, the maximum penalty. Mr. Blankenship’s defense lawyers, who are planning an appeal, recommended that he be fined and placed on probation.

It was virtually unthinkable not long ago that Mr. Blankenship, whose company was central to West Virginia’s coal industry, would ever stand before a judge for sentencing in this state. When a federal jury convicted Mr. Blankenship of a misdemeanor charge in December, the United States attorney said it was the first time such a high-ranking corporate executive had been found guilty of a workplace safety crime. (Jurors, however, dealt a substantial defeat to the Justice Department and acquitted Mr. Blankenship of three felony counts.)

In a lengthy, intricate trial last fall, prosecutors here described Mr. Blankenship, who was Massey’s chief executive at the time of the explosion, as a leader with a stubborn focus on the company’s financial standing. His demands, they argued, contributed to an unspoken conspiracy that company employees were to ignore safety standards and practices if they threatened profits.

Mr. Blankenship’s lawyers, who did not call any witnesses as part of the defense, argued that Mr. Blankenship had been appropriately committed to safety, and that Massey was far from a criminal enterprise.

However limited the Justice Department’s success was in the Blankenship case, the verdict was a landmark. But it is not yet clear whether the government will be able to replicate its success in future cases, partly because of Mr. Blankenship’s unusually deep involvement in Massey’s operations.
Is it even clear whether the government wants to replicate its success in future cases? It sure wouldn't under a Republican Justice Department. Blankenship has paid off Republican politicians to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars-- not even counting the millions he plowed into West Virginia politics, virtually buying up the entire political system of the state-- or at least the Republican end of it.
Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey Energy, has long had a lot of influence in West Virginia. The top executive of the company that owns the mine where 25 miners died this week looms large in state affairs both because of Massey 's economic importance and because of his own penchant for political bluster. But in 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Blankenship might be wielding too much influence, after he spent $3 million of his own money to get a judge elected to a West Virginia court that was ruling on a Massey-related case.

As detailed in an ABC News investigation, Blankenship vacationed on the Riviera with one West Virginia Supreme Court Justice and underwrote an ad campaign supporting the election of another while a $50 million judgment against Massey Energy was before the court. Blankenship's apparently successful multi-million-dollar attempt to change the composition of the court became the basis of a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision-- and the source of a slew of controversial television ads.
The video of Bernie below was aimed at Wall Street banksters, but every word of what he said would apply to characters like Blankenship as easily as it would to Hillary financier Lloyd Blankfein. And what about child rapist Denny Hastert? He claims he doesn't deserve prison. But we don't have the death penalty. We'll find out what the sentence is on April 27. His lawyers said Hastert "apologizes for his misconduct that occurred decades ago" and is "overwhelmed by the guilt" but still won't admit he was raping underage boys nor even discuss how many he raped and whether or not he was still doing it while he was Speaker of the House. (Spoiler: he was, as we reported at the time.) Hastert thinks the shame of having his official portrait removed from the House was punishment enough. How embarrassing for the poor thing!

Disgracefully, the Justice Department still hasn't filed any charges against Rick Snyder for his role as ringleader in the worst crime committed in the history of Flint, Michigan. The citizens of the city just did it themselves though, a racketeering lawsuit filed yesterday
The lawsuit accuses Snyder and others of hatching a "wrongful scheme" to reduce Flint's indebtedness by stopping the impoverished city from buying treated Lake Huron water from Detroit, instead of "invoking time tested, well-honed federal bankruptcy protections for restructuring the debts of municipalities."

...Along with Snyder, the suit names as defendants the state of Michigan; the departments of Environmental Quality and Health and Human Services; and a number of state officials, along with emergency managers whom Snyder appointed to oversee the city. Also named are the city of Flint, two of its utility officials and three consulting companies that advised them.

Through their actions, "unthinkable harm has been inflicted on the residents of Flint," the suit said.

It was filed by law firms in Southfield and New York, which said in a news release that they represented more than 400 people.

In a separate class-action lawsuit in federal court in Ann Arbor, attorneys representing the governor and other officials are claiming governmental immunity. The response, filed Monday, said the judge doesn't have jurisdiction and should dismiss the case.

"There are meaningful exceptions (to immunity) that apply to this situation, and their willingness to try to deprive people of their day in court is really breathtaking," said Michael Pitt, an attorney for Flint residents.

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At 11:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I smell serious bribery.

If a miner had been that negligent (and lived), he'd have been charged with 29 counts of manslaughter at the very least. That Blankenship essentially walked with a year in jail and a paltry fine (which he can probably write-off under our corrupt corporatist tax laws) because jurors ruled against at least three felony counts tells me that the fix was in as quickly as it could be arranged.


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