Mingo County Judge Arrested For Framing Romantic Rival, Rigging Grand Jury
Mingo County Commissioner Arrested for Extortion in Separate Case
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Mingo County Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury and County Commissioner David Baisden have been arrested on separate federal criminal charges, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin announced today. Thornsbury is charged with conspiring to have a romantic rival illegally arrested and manipulating a state grand jury to pursue criminal charges against the same romantic rival. Baisden is charged with using his office to illegally extort a discount from a Mingo County tire store. The charges against the officials are separate and were revealed in two different federal grand jury indictments unsealed today. This press release reflects allegations made in those indictments.
The Indictment of Judge Thornsbury
Judge Thornsbury is charged with conspiring to violate the constitutional rights of a victim identified as “R.W.,” who was the husband of Thornsbury’s secretary. In early 2008, the indictment alleges, Thornsbury began a romantic relationship with his secretary, identified as “K.W.,” which she broke off in June of that year. After K.W. ended the relationship, Thornsbury instructed a co-conspirator to plant illegal drugs underneath R.W.’s pickup truck and then arranged for police to stop R.W. and search for the drugs. The co-conspirator tasked with planting the drugs backed out of the plan at the last minute, thwarting Thornsbury’s scheme.
Thornsbury then tried a different approach, the indictment alleges. R.W. worked at a coal preparation plant, where newly mined coal was processed before shipping. One of the plant’s functions was to remove scrap metal that had fallen into the coal during mining. Thornsbury learned that R.W.’s supervisors had given him permission to salvage scrap items, including drill bits, that were found amid coal at the plant, which were simply discarded if R.W. did not collect them.
Thornsbury secretly instructed a West Virginia state trooper to file a criminal complaint that falsely alleged R.W. was stealing the scrap material from his employer. The trooper resisted, telling Thornsbury that R.W. was allowed to salvage the scrap, but ultimately yielded to Thornsbury’s demands, filing a false criminal complaint that led to R.W.’s arrest for grand larceny in December 2008.
In January 2009, a new Mingo County grand jury was empanelled, and Thornsbury decided to use it to pursue his campaign against R.W. As the county’s sole circuit judge, Thornsbury was empowered to choose the foreperson of the new grand jury. He selected Jarrod Fletcher, Mingo County’s Director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, with whom Thornsbury co-owned a commercial real estate business and a wine shop.
By installing Fletcher as grand jury foreperson, Thornsbury was able to secretly co-opt the grand jury’s authority and use it to victimize R.W. In January 2009, Thornsbury created a set of purported grand jury subpoenas that ordered various local companies, including R.W.’s employer, to surrender private documents concerning R.W. He had Fletcher sign these purported subpoenas and send them out in the name of the grand jury. Thornsbury planned to ultimately use the grand jury to charge R.W. criminally.
In March 2009, one of the recipients of Thornsbury’s so-called subpoenas, identified in the indictment as “DBC, Inc.,” asked for more time to respond. Thornsbury entered a court order denying that request, without disclosing that he himself had ghostwritten the subpoena or that he was disqualified from any participation in the criminal case against R.W.
Most of the companies targeted by Thornsbury’s subpoenas handed over the documents demanded, believing that the subpoenas were legitimate. DBC, Inc., however, waged a legal battle against the subpoena it received and eventually discovered the deep business ties between Thornsbury and Fletcher. When DBC, Inc., publicly revealed those ties in a court filing, Thornsbury was forced to abandon his plan to use the grand jury against R.W.
Several years later, in 2012, R.W. was involved in an argument outside a convenience store with two other men. One of the men took a swing at R.W., and the other one drew a gun. The police were called, and the two other men were charged with assault.
Nearly a month after the altercation, however, the charges against the two other men were dismissed and R.W. was charged with assault and battery. Thornsbury, through a messenger, told the county prosecutor to ensure that R.W. received a sentence of six months’ confinement, an extraordinarily harsh punishment even if R.W. had been guilty. Prosecutors in turn offered R.W. a plea agreement that would have confined him for six months. R.W. refused it, and on the eve of trial, the prosecutor dismissed the case, stating that after reviewing the evidence against R.W., he believed the prosecution was not in the interest of justice.
The indictment charges Thornsbury with conspiring to violate R.W.’s right against unreasonable arrest, guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and his right not to be deprived of his liberty without due process of law, guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. The indictment also charges that Thornsbury conspired against the companies targeted by the purported grand jury subpoena, specifically, against their Fourteenth Amendment right not to be deprived of their property without due process of law.
Thornsbury, 57, has served as Mingo County’s sole circuit judge since 1997.
The Indictment Against County Commissioner Baisden
County Commissioner David Baisden is charged with attempted extortion against Appalachian Tire. According to the indictment against him, in June 2009, Baisden demanded that Appalachian Tire sell him a set of tires for his personal automobile at a special discounted price available only for government vehicles. When Appalachian Tire refused, Baisden threatened to cut off Appalachian’s county business if he did not get the discount. At the time, Baisden was the Mingo County Commission’s purchasing agent, giving him authority to choose where the county bought tires, and the commission bought thousands of dollars’ worth of tires from Appalachian every year.
Despite the threat, Appalachian refused to give Baisden the special price he demanded. In retaliation, Baisden terminated the commission’s business relationship with Appalachian Tire and switched to a different tire supplier. Since June 2009, Appalachian Tire has lost tens of thousands of dollars in business as a result of Baisden’s reprisal.
Baisden, 66, has been a member of the Mingo County Commission since 2009. Prior to his election as a county commissioner, he was Mingo County’s assessor.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the West Virginia State Police are conducting the investigation.
Counsel to the United States Attorney Steven Ruby is in charge of the prosecution.
An indictment is merely an accusation and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
Click here to view a copy of the Thornsbury indictment
Click here to view a copy of the Baisden indictment