Criminal Justice

County prosecutor is charged, resigns, but claims credit for judge's plea in related corruption case

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Until yesterday, a county prosecutor in West Virginia had denied any wrongdoing related to the federal corruption case in which a county judge has already pleaded guilty.

But on Wednesday Mingo County Prosecuting Attorney Michael Sparks admitted “a mistake in judgment” in a written statement and said he will resign Thursday. His lawyer also said Sparks will give up his law license, reports the Charleston Gazette.

He has been charged with a misdemeanor count of deprivation of rights under the color of law, in connection with the same alleged scheme that brought down former Mingo County Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury, who pleaded guilty last week to a felony charge of conspiring to violate a convicted drug dealer’s civil rights. The former judge faces as much as a decade in prison and a $250,000 fine when he is sentenced in January, according to the Associated Press. If convicted, Sparks could get a maximum of one year.

The county’s chief magistrate was also charged Wednesday in a voter-registration fraud case and resigned before the criminal case against him was announced.

“Obviously, this is two more significant developments in our ongoing investigation in Mingo County,” said U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin. “Both individuals have agreed to plead guilty and are cooperating with that investigation.”

Despite the case against him, Sparks claimed credit for both Thornsbury’s plea and what the soon-to-be-former prosecutor described as an outstanding record of achievement in office:

“Our hard work and dedication to the cause of justice during my tenure as Mingo County Prosecuting Attorney resulted in an unprecedented number of felony convictions and 100 percent trial conviction rate in murder and drug cases,” said Sparks in his written statement. “Our commitment to children was exemplified by the prosecution of an unparalleled number of child abuse and neglect cases. Recently our voluntary substantial assistance in the federal investigation was instrumental in bringing Michael Thornsbury to justice.”

The scheme in which Sparks allegedly was involved, along with Thornsbury, concerned convicted drug dealer George White, who owned a sign shop. Federal prosecutors say the county’s former sheriff, Eugene Crum, owed White about $3,000 for providing campaign signs for his election, but had White arrested for selling drugs instead of paying him.

The claimed plot thickened as White, through his defense lawyer, began providing information to the feds about prescription painkillers he said he had given to the sheriff. Crum found out and allegedly got Sparks and others to help cover up the situation.

Sparks and his claimed cohorts told White’s brother that he would get a favorable sentence if he switched lawyers and stopped talking to the feds, prosecutors say. White did switch lawyers, allegedly accepting an attorney chosen by Thornsbury who represented White as he agreed to a one- to 15-year plea deal. Thornsbury reportedly admitted in a court hearing that he knew about the plan to get a new lawyer for White.

Crum was shot to death earlier this year as he sat near the county courthouse in Williamson in his patrol car, eating lunch,.

The Charleston Daily Mail also has a story, and links to copies of the criminal information filed against Sparks (PDF) and now-former chief magistrate Dallas Toler (PDF).

See also: “Courthouse locked after county sheriff is shot to death outside; ‘nobody’s safe,’ magistrate says” “Judge indicted; feds say he tried to frame romantic rival for fake crimes” “Judge to take plea in case linked to slain sheriff, US Attorney says; removal of prosecutor sought” “Lawyer disciplinary board seeks immediate suspension of county prosecutor’s license”

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