Let’s say you live in West Virginia.
And you want the local prosecutor to bring a criminal charge against Massey Energy.
And the responsible Massey executives.
For the deaths of the 29 coal miners who were killed on April 5.
At the Upper Big Branch Mine.
In Raleigh County.
So you put up a web site – prosecutemassey.org.
And you urge people to sign a petition to the prosecuting attorney in Raleigh County – Kristen Keller – urging her to bring a prosecution.
And in the first week, almost 2,000 people sign the petition.
And let’s say you design a billboard that reads –
29 Coal Miners Dead.
Prosecute Massey for Manslaughter.
And you purchase three billboard spots in the eastern part of the state.
Far from coal country.
Four hours away from where the miners died.
And put up the billboards.
And people see the billboards driving by.
When they get home, they go to the web site.
And they sign the petition.
And donate money to buy more billboard space.
And then you call billboard companies in coal country.
And you call up the biggest billboard company in the state and the country for that matter.
Lamar Advertising Company.
And you say – hey, I want to pay to put up a billboard.
Sure, the billboard man says – what does the billboard say?
Well, we’ll send you the design.
And you send the design.
To Bruce Morrison of Lamar.
Bruce says he’ll check with his general manager.
He writes back and says — okay, we’ll do it.
But you can’t use the word “manslaughter” because no charge of manslaughter has been brought yet.
But Bruce, the point of the campaign is to persuade the prosecutor to bring a manslaughter charge against the company and responsible executives.
Before the statute of limitations runs – April 5, 2011.
But Lamars say no.
We then turn to Kanawha Valley Advertising – the second biggest billboard company in the state.
I speak with the head sales guy – Frank Young.
Up front, I ask Frank – do you have Massey as a customer?
Yes, Young says, but I’ll ask the owner – Wade Leslie – anyway to see what he says.
Days go by.
Finally, we get a letter faxed to us.
From Wade Leslie.
It’s dated May 10, 2010.
Leslie doesn’t say – what are you nuts?
Massey is one of our clients.
I’m not going to do this.
No, Leslie says it’s about the miners and their families.
Leslie says that “our primary focus at the present time is to assist our communities in the healing process and pray for the families affected by this terrible tragedy.”
So, we wait a couple of weeks and e-mail Frank Young back and ask – let us know when we can start to talk about justice for those responsible and bringing a criminal prosecution.
The statute of limitations is April 5, 2011.
No answer yet from Frank Young.
Finally, we approach Friendly Outdoor Advertising.
Friendly is a small company that has a number of billboards in Raleigh County – some near the Massey mine where the 29 coal miners died.
We talk with Mike Rincic, the general manager for Friendly.
At first, Rincic says – yes, we’ll do it.
He says – they’ve done controversial billboard ads before – including for “adult entertainment” businesses – like Lion’s Den and Southern X Posure – a topless bar.
“Some of the advertisers – like Wendy’s – don’t want to be on the same board as an adult entertainment store. And I can understand that for the kids’ sake.”
“And in today’s world, there’s a lot of women in charge of marketing – and they consider this exploitation of women,” Rincic says.
But we take the heat, he says.
And so, this Massey billboard shouldn’t be a problem.
We talk price.
And we talk location.
I’ll e-mail to you the locations, Rincic says.
No e-mail arrives.
Then Rincic calls the next day.
He’s changed his mind.
But Friendly turns out to be a touch more honest than Lamar or Kanawha Valley.
“We worried about the possibility of vandalism – they could hurt our property or tear your sign down,” Rincic said.
“Plus, a lot of the people who have advertising with us are affiliated with the mining industry. It’s probably not a wise business decision.”
Do you have Massey as a client?
“No, but I’m sure that people we deal with sell supplies to Massey. Car dealerships sell to Massey employees. We just don’t feel like it’s a good move for us.”
“And we’re struggling – we need the business.”
“We never said no, until we asked around,” Rincic said.
“I’m up here in Logan,” Rincic said. “And yesterday, I’m talking to a machine shop guy. He probably services the coal mine industry. And I tell him about your billboard. And this guy says to me – you want to get yourself killed, don’t you?”
“Yesterday I was going to send you four locations that would have been possible. Vandalism is a possibility. And they could just tear your sign down. And there’s a big possibility some of our customers just might not renew with us. They might say – what did you do that for? Risk wise, if you were in my position, you would probably do the same thing.”
“I was trying to be fair. But I just couldn’t do it.”
RUSSELL MOKHIBER is the editor of the Corporate Crime Reporter.