CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Former Mingo County Prosecutor Michael Sparks said Monday during his guilty plea to a federal crime that he had “no viable defense” for what he did.
Sparks, 44, admitted he violated a man’s constitutional rights in order to protect former Mingo County Sheriff Eugene Crum. He now faces up to a year in federal prison when he’s sentenced Feb. 24.
Sparks had no comment when he left the federal courthouse in Charleston. His attorney Kent Varney said he would have to pay for his mistakes.
“He allowed political manipulation of his office and as a result of those mistakes, there are consequences for his actions,” Varney said.
Federal prosecutors said Sparks and former Mingo County Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury, who also has been convicted of a federal crime, urged accused drug dealer George White to get a different attorney and then he would get a better deal in court. White’s other attorney was urging him to speak with federal investigators about Sheriff Crum’s alleged drug habits.
Varney said Sparks was under pressure.
“It’s hard to describe. He had some pressure on him,” he said.
U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said attorneys, especially elected prosecutors, need to be able to withstand that pressure.
“Instead of standing up for them (the people of Mingo County) he stood up for and rolled over to special interests associated to the corrupt political machine of Mingo County,” Goodwin said. “(Attorneys) have a public trust. They’re supposed to be there representing the cause of justice wherever they may be. They have that ability and are entrusted with that ability.”
Sparks hasresigned as prosecutor and surrendered his law license. He now has a job in Pikeville, Ky., awaiting his sentencing.
“His admitted his guilt,” Varney said. “He admitted his mistakes and he looks forward to moving on with his life and going on with the next chapter and seeing what happens.”
Williamson resident Mark Curry attended Monday’s plea hearing. He said Sparks is a good man who got caught up with the wrong people.
“It’s totally out of character for Michael,” Curry said. “He got caught up being around some people who were really pressuring him and things like that. It’s really surprising. He’s a friend and it’s really out of character.”
Sparks has promised to continue to cooperate with federal investigators in the ongoing Mingo County probe. He has been granted limited use immunity.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Johnston took the plea and will sentence Sparks. He’ll have a range that cannot exceed one year in federal prison. Sparks also faces one year supervised release and a $1,000 fine.