Federal prosecutors said Friday they are investigating whether there was “willful criminal activity” by the company that operates the West Virginia coal mine where 29 workers died in an accident last month.
The U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of West Virginia said in a letter that investigators are looking into possible criminal conduct by the mine’s operator, Performance Coal, and its directors, officers and agents.
The letter, obtained by The Associated Press, asks the Labor Department to hold off pursuing dozens of civil cases against Performance for alleged mine safety violations.
Performance is a subsidiary of Massey Energy Co., which owns the Upper Big Branch mine.
Last month, federal law enforcement officials said the FBI had interviewed nearly two dozen current and former employees of Massey in the probe. But the Justice Department declined to publicly confirm there was a criminal investigation.
And hopefully they are doing the same with BP and the oil rig blast.
Now I know a lot of people, mostly on the right, will be outraged by this. They will start asking how we can hold these companies criminally liable, but we must. It’s time for a CEO to answer to the same laws as any other citizen.
Let me cite an example here. Say I am out driving my car. I decided to do some reckless joy riding; speeding, running red lights and ignoring the safety laws of the road. Suddenly I end up hitting another car, killing that driver. What happens to me? I end up in jail, awaiting trial for manslaughter. This is something that happens almost everyday in this country. I don’t even have to be out joy riding. I could do something as simple as run a red light and kill a person in the process and the next thing you know I’m facing criminal charges.
Now say I run a company and decide to ignore federal safety regulations in order to increase my bottom line. While ignoring those safety “laws”, disaster strikes. There’s an explosion and suddenly a bunch of my employees die. I might end up paying out some in a civil case and facing some federal fines, but I have the comfort of knowing I won’t lose my freedom inside a jail cell. A perfect example of this is the Sago mine disaster.
The fact is that Massey Energy and BP both chose to ignore federal regulations and laws. Their actions, a byproduct of their enormous greed, has lead to the deaths of 40 innocent lives combined. The survivors of those that died deserve the same justice and closure as the victim’s family of that car crash in my scenario above.
Of course all this brings us to question exactly who should be tried. What if it was some site manager who made the bad calls and the CEO didn’t know about it? That shouldn’t matter. The CEO/president of a company is the top dog. “The buck stops here” comes to mind. If they don’t have enough control over their company to realize that people are ignoring the law and a constant basis, then they need to be held criminally liable. After all, it’s their company and they are responsible for it.
It’s time for America to take the cue from other countries. Corporations should not be considered above the law. On the contrary, they should be held to a higher standard in regards to the law. They have reaped the benefits of our capitalistic system, so they must show their respects to the people of this country by putting life above profit. If they don’t, then it is time to frog march them in front of the cameras. If we fail to do so, then we also fail as a country. The primary goal of our Constitution, to keep the people of this nation safe, has been declared moot and we become a nation of second class citizens.