FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Nov. 18, 2013
FORMER MINGO CO. PROSECUTING ATTORNEY PLEADS GUILTY TO FEDERAL RIGHTS VIOLATION
Michael Sparks is the third former Mingo official to plead guilty in connection with federal corruption probe
*Audio clip included*
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Former Mingo County Prosecuting Attrorney C. Michael Sparks entered a guilty plea in federal court in connection with a conspiracy to deprive a Mingo County resident of his constitutional rights, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin announced today. Sparks, 44, is the third former Mingo County official to plead guilty to federal charges involving a scheme to cover up evidence of illegal drug use and other misconduct by late Mingo County Sheriff Eugene Crum.
U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said, “Prosecutors are the representatives of the people. Instead of advancing the interests of the good people of Mingo County, Mr. Sparks chose to roll over for the special interests of a corrupt political faction.”
Earlier this year, a Mingo County drug defendant, identified as “G.W.,” began to provide the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) with information about misconduct by then Sheriff Crum, including illegal drug use and election law violations. Crum learned that G.W., along with G.W.’s attorney, were providing information about Crum to the FBI. Crum and other Mingo elected officials, including Sparks and former Mingo Co. Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury, carried out a plan to protect Crum and to stop G.W. from informing to the FBI. They arranged to offer G.W. a favorable plea deal if he would fire his attorney, identified as “C.W.,” who was assisting G.W.’s communication with federal authorities, and replace him with an attorney chosen by Crum and the other elected officials.
After G.W. fired C.W., Mr. Sparks entered into a plea agreement with G.W. under which three of five criminal counts pending against G.W. were dismissed. As part of the plea agreement, Mr. Sparks also accepted a forfeiture from G.W. of $10,000, which was $10,000 less than the forfeiture Mr. Sparks originally intended to seek from G.W. Moreover, as part of the agreement, Mr. Sparks agreed to recommend that the sentences for the two counts to which G.W. would plead guilty would run concurrently rather than consecutively. Mr. Sparks negotiated this plea agreement in part with former Mingo County Commissioner David Baisden himself and, at Baisden's behest, entered into a plea agreement more favorable that he otherwise would have. Mr. Sparks did these acts knowing that a more favorable agreement for G.W. was a necessary part of the scheme to coerce G.W. into firing C.W. in order to protect the Sheriff. Because Mr. Sparks was the county's Prosecuting Attorney, his cooperation in this regard was necessary to the scheme's success.
In the face of this coercion, G.W. fired his attorney, which the Mingo officials involved believed would protect Crum from federal investigation and public embarrassment.
United States District Court Judge Thomas E. Johnston presided over today’s plea hearing and will sentence Sparks on February 24, 2014. Sparks faces a year in prison. Sparks previously resigned as Prosecuting Attorney of Mingo County in late October. As part of his federal guilty plea, Sparks' plea agreement with the Office of the U.S. Attorney required him to resign as Mingo County’s Prosecuting Attorney and never seek elected office again. Sparks is also required to voluntarily surrender his license to practice law in every state in which he holds a law license, and withdraw his opposition to the petition seeking the immediate suspension of his law license in the State of West Virginia. Sparks also agrees not to contest disbarment proceedings in any state in which he is licensed to practice law.
Former Mingo County Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury, 57, previously pleaded guilty in October for his role in the scheme to protect Crum and deprive G.W. of his rights. Thornsbury faces up to 10 years in prison when he is sentenced on January 13, 2014.
Former County Commissioner David Baisden pleaded guilty to an unrelated federal charge in connection with a scheme to illegally extort a discount from a Mingo County tire store. Baisden, 66, resigned from the Mingo County Commission in October. Baisden faces up to 20 years in prison when he is sentenced on January 14, 2014.
The investigation is being conducted by the FBI and the West Virginia State Police. Counsel to the United States Attorney Steven Ruby and Assistant United States Attorney Haley Bunn are handling the prosecution.
Click here to listen to an audio sound clip from U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin