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Thornsbury to admit to federal charge

Chris Dorst
Mingo Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury (right) leaves the federal courthouse in Charleston with his lawyer last month. On Thursday, Thornsbury was charged with another federal crime; he allegedly conspired to block a federal investigation into Eugene Crum, then sheriff of Mingo County.
AP Photo Mingo County Sheriff Eugene Crum was hailed as a crusader against drugs when he was shot and killed on April 3. On Thursday, federal prosecutors alleged that Crum and other county officials stopped an investigation into whether Crum had bought oxycodone from a local drug dealer.
Lawrence Pierce Mingo County Prosecuting Attorney Michael Sparks (kneeling) talks to Rosie Crum, widow of Eugene Crum, and Dave Rockel, then Williamson police chief, at the May arraignment of Tennis Maynard, Eugene Crum's alleged killer. Federal prosecutors allege that Sparks, among others, conspired to stop a federal investigation into Crum before he was killed.

Mingo officials react

Late sheriff's widow, daughter

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Beleaguered Mingo Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury faces another federal charge: Prosecutors say he helped interrupt a federal investigation into slain Mingo sheriff Eugene Crum, and helped cover up allegations that Crum illegally received prescription painkillers from a convicted drug dealer.

Thornsbury was charged Thursday with conspiring to deprive the drug dealer of his constitutional rights. Prosecutors in U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin's office filed the charge in an information, which cannot be filed without a defendant's consent, and usually means a defendant is cooperating with prosecutors.

Thornsbury will plead guilty to the charge outlined in the information, Goodwin said: "He has agreed to cooperate with our investigation and our investigation moves forward." Later Thursday, prosecutors asked a federal judge to schedule a plea hearing for Thornsbury.

Last month, a federal grand jury indicted Thornsbury and charged him with conspiring to violate the constitutional rights of his ex-lover's husband by trying to have him jailed on trumped-up charges.

Crum, who prosecutors describe in Thursday's filing as "a close associate and political ally" of Thornsbury's, was shot to death on April 3, as the sheriff sat in his police cruiser in downtown Williamson.

Thursday's information, filed by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Steve Ruby and Haley Bunn, states that during Crum's campaign for sheriff last year, he bought several thousand dollars worth of signs and other promotional items on credit from a shop in Delbarton.

The shop, White's Sign Company, was owned by George R. White, 65. White, who was identified by his initials in Thursday's filing, is incarcerated in the Southwestern Regional Jail.

After Crum was elected sheriff, instead of paying a $3,000 bill to White, Crum allegedly sent an undercover police officer to the shop, where he bought three oxycodone tablets from White, according to the information.

Crum and then-Williamson police chief Dave Rockel filed the police report on the incident, Thursday's information states. White was indicted on charges of possession of controlled substances with intent to deliver shortly after Crum and Rockel searched his business around Jan. 30.

Rockel, who was also described in Thursday's filing as "a close associate and political ally of Crum's," retired as Williamson chief and joined the Mingo County Sheriff's Department as chief field deputy in June. When Rosie Crum, Eugene Crum's widow, resigned as interim sheriff last month, she recommended Rockel as her late husband's replacement. But new Mingo Sheriff James Smith fired Rockel earlier this week.

After White's arrest, federal investigators approached his lawyer, former Williamson mayor Charles "Butch" West, and asked to talk to White about allegations that he provided drugs to Crum.

"I had represented Mr. White for years," West told the Gazette Thursday. "I said I would ask him and if he wants to talk then we'll sit down and talk and I will be sitting right beside him to make sure he doesn't do something to hurt himself."

White told FBI agents that on "multiple occasions prior to his arrest, he unlawfully provided Crum with prescription narcotic pills at Crum's request," prosecutors said in Thursday's filing.

White told FBI agents that he provided the pills while Crum was a Mingo County magistrate, and also told federal investigators about "election law violations committed by Crum," the information states. 

Federal prosecutors say Crum soon learned what White had told FBI agents.

"Sheriff Crum and Mingo County Prosecuting Attorney Michael Sparks, also a close associate and political ally of Sheriff Crum's, informed Judge Thornsbury that [White] had provided the FBI with incriminating information regarding Sheriff Crum," the charge states.

In March, federal prosecutors say that Crum, Sparks and Mingo County Commissioner David Baisden "devised a scheme to prevent [White] from further communicating to the FBI and others incriminating information regarding Sheriff Crum."

A meeting was arranged with George White's brother, Glenn White. Crum and Sparks told Glenn White that if his brother fired West and replaced him with another lawyer -- one favored by Crum, Sparks and Baisden -- that Thornsbury would give George White a light sentence, the information states.

When Crum informed Thornsbury of the scheme to get George White to change lawyers, prosecutors say, the judge agreed and said that it would be in White's "best interest to obtain new counsel."

After his brother told him about the offer for a lighter sentence, White fired West -- who ran against Sparks for prosecutor last year -- and hired the lawyer favored by Crum, Sparks and Baisden, according to the information.

The lawyer now representing White is Ronald Rumora, a former Mingo County prosecuting attorney.

After White switched lawyers, Crum had one of his deputies obtain a statement from White saying that he had never provided drugs to Crum, according to prosecutors.

White pleaded guilty to the drug charges and Thornsbury sentenced him "with knowledge of this arrangement," according to Thursday's filing. White was sentenced to 1 to 15 years in jail, according to the Mingo circuit clerk employee.

According to documents in the Mingo County circuit clerk's office, Thornsbury had scheduled a hearing to reconsider White's sentence on Sept. 26. The judge scheduled that hearing on July 15.

Rosie Crum and her daughter, Julie Hall, both said Thursday that the allegations against the late sheriff aren't true.

Sparks announced Wednesday that he would request a special prosecutor to take over the murder trial of Tennis Maynard, the man accused of shooting Crum. The prosecutor said he had to recuse himself, citing an "emerging conflict of interest."

State Supreme Court justices are expected to issue an order today about whether to suspend Sparks' law license.

Conspiring to deprive someone of his or her constitutional rights carries a 10-year maximum prison sentence, Goodwin has said.

Thornsbury's attorney, Stephen Jory, would not comment Thursday. Sparks and Rumora could not be reached for comment; nor could James Cagle, a lawyer for Baisden.

Goodwin would not say if the others who allegedly took part in the conspiracy --Sparks and Baisden -- would face charges from it.

Thornsbury had a pre-trial hearing on the earlier charges against him scheduled for Sept. 26, but U.S. District Judge Thomas Johnston canceled that hearing earlier this week.

In the earlier case, federal prosecutors allege that Thornsbury conspired to get Robert Woodruff arrested and thrown in jail. Thornsbury allegedly hoped that if Woodruff was in jail, Kim Woodruff -- the judge's former secretary and lover -- would be forced to restart an affair with him for financial reasons.

The West Virginia Supreme Court suspended Thornsbury without pay, and also suspended his law license, after the earlier indictment.

On Thursday, Thornsbury was served with a statement of charges by the state Judicial Investigation Commission. The commission found that Thornsbury violated four of the rules of conduct for judges in the state.

Baisden faces a federal extortion charge in an unrelated case. He allegedly tried to get Appalachian Tire to sell him tires for his personal vehicle at a special government rate. When the business refused, Baisden allegedly steered the county's tire contract elsewhere, costing Appalachian Tire thousands of dollars.

On Wednesday, Ruby asked a judge to schedule a hearing for Baisden to plead guilty. Mingo County Commissioner Greg "Hootie" Smith said Thursday that Baisden would step down as commissioner as a condition of his plea deal.

Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.


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