CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The former prosecuting attorney of Mingo County told a judge Monday that he had "no viable defense" for his actions as part of a scheme to hinder a federal investigation into the county's former sheriff.
Michael Sparks, 44, pleaded guilty to one charge of deprivation of rights under the color of law, a misdemeanor. Sparks faces a maximum of one year in prison and a fine of up to $100,000 when U.S. District Judge Thomas Johnston sentences him Feb. 24.
Last month, former Mingo circuit judge Michael Thornsbury pleaded guilty to a similar charge for his role in the same scheme.
"Prosecutors are supposed to represent the interests of the people. They're supposed to stand up for the cause of justice," U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said outside the Robert C. Byrd U.S. District Courthouse after Sparks' plea.
"But, Mr. Sparks, instead of representing the interests of the people, instead of standing up for them, he rolled over for the special interests of a corrupt political faction," Goodwin said.
Sparks arrived hours before his 1:30 p.m. plea hearing. His wife, Jennifer, sat in the courtroom behind her husband and often wiped tears from her eyes.
About an hour after the hearing ended, Sparks walked quickly to a car that had pulled in front of the courthouse. He said he didn't want to comment about the hearing.
"He's looking forward to the next chapter," his attorney, Kent Varney, said after the hearing.
Sparks, who had served as Mingo County's prosecutor since 2005, deprived convicted drug dealer George White of his rights while trying to cover up allegations that Mingo County's former sheriff, Eugene Crum, illegally received prescription painkillers from White, according to federal prosecutors.
White owned a sign shop in Delbarton. Crum owed him about $3,000 for election campaign materials -- but instead of paying the bill, Crum had White arrested for selling drugs, federal prosecutors say.
White, with the help of lawyer Charles "Butch" West, then began talking to federal agents about giving prescription pain medication to Crum, according to prosecutors.
When Crum found out, he allegedly approached other officials -- including Sparks and former county commissioner David Baisden -- who devised a scheme to keep White quiet. Federal prosecutors say Sparks and others told White's brother that, if White switched lawyers and stopped talking to federal investigators, he would get a lighter sentence.