During an interview on Metronews Talkline, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said former Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury ran Mingo County like “Boss Hog,” a reference to the greedy, sleazy character from the TV show “The Dukes of Hazzard.”
It would be comical if it weren’t so close to the truth.
During his 17 years on the bench as Mingo County’s only circuit judge, Thornsbury devolved into a petty tyrant. He and his minions ran Mingo County, subjugating the law to their own interests.
Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Johnston called Thornsbury’s conduct “appalling and unacceptable” as he sentenced him to just over four years in prison for his abuse of power.
Technically, Thornsbury only admitted to participating in a scheme to try to protect Mingo County Sheriff Eugene Crum (who has since been murdered) from a federal investigation. Thornsbury said in court Monday that he regretted the “30 second conversation” he had with Crum about the plan.
Reducing the malfeasance to a poor decision based on a brief conversation must be Thornsbury’s way of justifying his conduct, and Judge Johnston didn’t let him get away with it. Instead, the judge reviewed the other charges against Thornsbury, which federal prosecutors were ready to pursue had he not pleaded guilty.
For example, federal investigators say Thornsbury tried to have his secretary’s husband arrested on drug charges because she rejected the judge’s romantic advances.
Thornsbury isn’t alone. Dave Baisden has pleaded guilty to a ham-handed extortion attempt and has resigned his Mingo County Commission seat. Michael Sparks was forced to resign as the county’s prosecuting attorney after pleading guilty to corruption.
Former Mingo County Magistrate Dallas Toler pleaded guilty to vote fraud in connection with the “Team Mingo” slate of candidates. While Toler was awaiting his sentencing, he was arrested on charges of trying to sell cocaine. A former State Trooper of the Year, Brandon Moore, has left the force after being implicated in the Mingo County morass and then cooperating with investigators.
The judge, the prosecutor, a county commissioner, a magistrate, a state trooper—these are the people who were supposed to be enforcing the law, not violating it. Their actions have a demoralizing effect. When public officials so blatantly bend the morality curve, why should anyone else believe they have to follow the rules?
Federal investigators say they’re continuing their probe, and still more Mingo County officials may fall. Williamson Daily News sports editor Kyle Lovern said on Talkline, “For months now, we’ve heard rumors that there will be more indictments with other elected officials, so everyone is wondering when that’s going to occur.”
Lovern says he hopes that happens because, “We’d like to see a real clean sweep here.”
That would be helpful to the long-suffering folks of Mingo County, unless the culture of corruption is so strong that the effort is like pushing sands against the tide.