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Press Release

Former Mingo Prosecuting Attorney Sentenced To Federal Prison

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of West Virginia

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Former Mingo County prosecuting attorney C. Michael Sparks was sentenced today to a year in federal prison, United States Attorney Booth Goodwin announced. The sentence comes after Sparks admitted his role in a scheme to coerce a Mingo County drug defendant, George White, into firing his defense counsel. According to Sparks, he and other Mingo officials, including former county commissioner David Baisden and former sheriff Eugene Crum, learned that White was prepared to testify that then-Sheriff Crum had been involved in criminal activity. In order to protect Crum from the impact of White’s allegations, including possible investigation, Baisden, Sparks, Crum, and former Mingo circuit judge Michael Thornsbury carried out a plan to pressure White into firing his defense attorney and replacing him with another attorney handpicked by the conspirators. After switching lawyers, White dropped his allegations against Crum and was sentenced to up to fifteen years in state prison.

The United States Constitution entitles criminal defendants to counsel of their choosing. By using their official authority to coerce White into firing his chosen lawyer and replacing him with the lawyer that they wanted, Sparks and the others involved violated that right. Using public authority to violate a person’s constitutional rights is a federal crime.

In the midst of the White scheme, federal investigators approached Sparks for information about wrongdoing by him and other Mingo officials. Sparks agreed to cooperate with authorities, becoming the first of a group of corrupt Mingo officeholders to assist federal agents. The information that Sparks provided laid the groundwork for a successful investigation of wrongdoing among those officials. To date, that investigation has led to federal prison terms for former Mingo County circuit judge Michael Thornsbury, former Mingo County commissioner David Baisden, and former Mingo County chief magistrate Dallas “Big Dal” Toler. In addition to their prison sentences, each of those officials has resigned his office as a result of the federal investigation, and Thornsbury and Sparks have lost their licenses to practice law.

Because of Sparks’ early and valuable participation in the investigation, Goodwin’s office sought a one-year prison sentence in Sparks’ case—significantly shorter than the sentences imposed on his fellow former officials.

“This sentence strikes an appropriate balance,” said U.S. Attorney Goodwin. “It punishes wrongdoing while encouraging officials involved in public corruption to come forward, admit what they’ve done, and help federal authorities. What Sparks did was indefensible, and he deserves prison time. But his early cooperation was vital to our investigation in Mingo County. This sentence underscores that telling the truth at the beginning of an investigation is always a wise decision.”

Today’s sentence was imposed by United States District Judge Thomas E. Johnston, who last month sentenced Thornsbury to 50 months in prison for his role in the same scheme in which Sparks was involved and in March sentenced Toler to 27 months in prison for election fraud. In sentencing Sparks, Judge Johnston focused on the importance of Sparks’ early and truthful cooperation with federal officials.

In January, after pleading guilty in an extortion scheme, Baisden was sentenced to 20 months’ imprisonment by United States District Judge John T. Copenhaver, Jr.

The investigation of corruption in Mingo County is being conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the West Virginia State Police. Counsel to the United States Attorney Steven R. Ruby and Assistant United States Attorney C. Haley Bunn are in charge of the prosecutions.

Updated January 7, 2015