(Editor’s note: In response to my commentary, Mingo County Prosecutor Michael Sparks sent me the following statement.)
“I have supported and assisted the federal investigation in Mingo County and continue to do so. I commend the United States Attorney’s Office, FBI and West Virginia State Police for their commitment to the cause of justice. As a witness in the case, it would be imprudent and improper for me to publicly discuss the case in detail prior to resolution. However, it is important to note that I promptly notified RW’s counsel of my intent to dismiss the charges after I reviewed the police report, witness statements and video surveillance, which I did not receive until after the plea offer was made to RW by Assistant Prosecuting Attorney [APA] Matthew E. Chandler. APA Chandler has since advised me that the plea offer terms were specifically requested by the investigating officer.
In summary, I promptly intervened to prevent injustice as soon as I discerned that RW was unjustly charged.”
Last week’s federal indictments of Mingo County Judge Michael Thornsbury and County Commissioner David Baisden are consequential steps in breaking up the stronghold of corruption there.
Naturally, Thornsbury, Baisden and everyone else caught up in the federal investigations enjoy a presumption of innocence, but the indictments are notably specific and it is apparent that U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin has files full of evidence and eyewitness testimony.
The indictments prompt other issues that need addressed:
—The state judiciary moved quickly to get Thornsbury out of office and off the payroll, but what about Commissioner Baisden? The allegation of extortion against Baisden warrants a suspension without pay. If he’s cleared, he can be paid in full.
—According to the indictment, Mingo County’s director of homeland security and emergency management, Jarrod Fletcher, played a critical role in Judge Thornsbury’s attempt to fix a grand jury. Fletcher should lose his government job.
—State trooper Brandon Moore, alleged to have aided Judge Thornsbury in his schemes to harass Robert Woodruff, the husband of Thornsbury’s paramour, has been put on administrative leave, although he continues to draw a paycheck. Hopefully, the state police will make quick work of their internal investigation.
—Mingo County Prosecutor Michael Sparks appears to have balked at playing along with Thornsbury’s malefactions. However, according to the indictment, Sparks did pursue a criminal charge against Woodruff that had been trumped up by Thornsbury. Sparks dropped the charges a day before the trial was to begin. Sparks owes a further explanation to the people of Mingo County about that.
Coincidentally, one day before the Thornsbury indictments, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced that Aracoma Contracting, a Williamson employee leasing firm, arranged cash withdrawals from the Williamson branch of the Bank of Mingo.
Federal investigators charge two Aracoma employees used millions of dollars in cash withdrawals to pay bribes and cash to employees to avoid taxes and workers’ compensation insurance premiums. According to the U.S. Attorney, “Bank of Mingo routinely failed to file a currency transaction report, as required by law.”
So the Bank of Mingo has some explaining to do as well.
Meanwhile, the Sunday Gazette-Mail reports on allegations that Eugene Crum, the Mingo County Sheriff who was murdered earlier this year, was once the subject of a state police investigation for sexual assault.
The paper reported that according to the state police report, “Crum admitted to having sex with the woman in the back seat of a Delbarton police cruiser, while two Delbarton police officers listened from the front seat at 2:30 a.m. Dec. 9, 2001.” Crum was the police chief of Delbarton at the time.
The woman, who was 19 at the time, initially wanted to pursue rape charges, but later changed her mind.
Crum was shot to death earlier this year while sitting in his police cruiser in Williamson. Tennis Maynard is charged with the murder. The Gazette-Mail reported the sexual assault allegations against Crum could be used as evidence in the trial.
A civil society is built upon the rule of law. No individual is above the law and those in government positions of power must act with restraint. When breakdowns occur, as witnessed in Mingo County, people lose confidence in their public servants and community leaders.
The good and decent people of Mingo County have been shaken by the revelations of last week, but hopefully there is now a chance for revival and restoration.