In 2010, the Upper Big Branch mine was the site of a tragic explosion that killed 29 people. Massey Energy was the company operating that mine and its chief executive was Don Blankenship. Earlier this month, Mr. Blankenship was found guilty of conspiracy in connection with decisions that violated safety standards. It is a misdemeanor conviction, punishable by a fine of up to $250,000 and up to one year in prison. Prosecutors had also sought convictions for making false statements and for securities fraud based on statements about the company's safety practices. The jury returned not guilty verdicts for both of those charges.
The guilty verdict will likely intensify discussion about the intent standards for this form of white collar crime. While many violent crimes have what is known as a men rea requirement, white collar crimes often do not. In other words, to be found guilty of a violent crime, it must be proven that you acted with intent to break the law or commit the crime. If there is no mens rea requirement, the mere act of committing the offense is enough, even if you had no knowledge or intent to do so.
In the Massey Energy case, Don Blankenship presided over a company with workplace safety violations. He was accused of ignoring health and safety rules regarding his employees. Such violations have traditionally been dealt with through fines levied against the corporation. The fact that Don Blankenship has been found guilty in a criminal trial is noteworthy and potentially sets a precedent that could affect other executives.
Source: Insurance Journal, "Blankenship Found Guilty of Conspiracy in W. Virginia Mine Blast," by Kara Van Pelt, 3 December 2015