White-Collar Crime

Judge to take plea in case linked to slain sheriff, US Attorney says; removal of prosecutor sought

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A new federal charge has been filed against a West Virginia judge who is now accused of interfering in a federal investigation linked to the slaying of a local sheriff.

Mingo County Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury was charged Thursday with conspiring to deprive a drug dealer of his constitutional rights and is expected to plead guilty and cooperate with an ongoing investigation in a complicated case described in a lengthy Charleston Gazette article, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Meanwhile, the state Office of Disciplinary Counsel petitioned Thursday for the state supreme court to “immediately” suspend Mingo County Prosecuting Attorney Michael Sparks, citing “egregious misconduct” and calling him “a substantial threat of irreparable harm; unable and/or unwilling to represent the interests of the citizens of Mingo County,” according to the Associated Press and another Charleston Gazette article.

Sparks has not been charged but is accused in a criminal information filed against Thornsbury of helping to deter a federal investigation of former Mingo County Sheriff Eugene Crum, who was shot to death while sitting in his patrol vehicle in April not far from the Williamson courthouse.

Prosecutors say Thornsbury helped cover up allegations that Crum, a longtime magistrate who only recently had been elected sheriff, had illegally received prescription pain medication from a convicted drug dealer. U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said Thornsbury has agreed to plead guilty and cooperate in a federal probe, the Gazette reports.

A lawyer representing Thornsbury declined to comment when contacted Thursday by the newspaper.

Citing an “emerging” conflict of interest, Sparks said Wednesday that would ask for a special prosecutor in the murder case against Tennis Maynard, who is charged with shooting Crum. Sparks could not be reached Thursday for comment, the newspaper says.

However, Sparks told the Williamson Daily News he had “absolutely nothing to do with this” and is “shocked beyond belief about the allegations.” He suggested that Thornsbury lied about him to retaliate against Sparks for cooperating in the federal investigation.

See also:

ABAJournal.com: “Courthouse locked after county sheriff is shot to death outside; ‘nobody’s safe,’ magistrate says”

ABAJournal.com: “Should county prosecutor have done more to rein in now-indicted judge?”

ABAJournal.com: “Judge indicted; feds say he tried to frame romantic rival for fake crimes”

Charleston Daily Mail: “Feds charge Mingo judge Thornsbury in drug-related conspiracy”

WOAY: “Mingo judge, commissioner, prosecutor, & sheriff implicated in drug conspiracy”

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