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Prosecutor says guilty plea in Mingo case should be thrown out

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The prosecutor assigned to the case of the man at the center of the federal Mingo County corruption investigation agrees his guilty plea to drug charges should be thrown out "in the interest of justice."

Boone County Prosecuting Attorney Keith Randolph "has no objection" to setting aside George White's guilty plea on drug charges, according to his response to White's habeas corpus petition filed in October.

Randolph asked Circuit Judge John Cummings to return White's case "to the pre-trial stage."

White, 65, of Delbarton, was released from prison Nov. 15 until the judge decides whether to throw out his plea.

Last week, Cummings gave Randolph until Monday to respond to White's filing to have his plea vacated. The judge has scheduled a hearing on the matter in Mingo Circuit Court on Friday.

White says his guilty plea should be vacated because he was deprived of his right to choose his attorney. Former Mingo County prosecutor Michael Sparks has pleaded guilty to depriving White of his constitutional rights in just that way, and former Mingo circuit judge Michael Thornsbury has pleaded guilty to conspiring to deprive White of his rights.

Randolph and Cummings have been appointed to fill in for Sparks and Thornsbury.

In his response to White's filing, Randolph wrote that White "was the subject of a scheme/conspiracy to coerce him into firing his counsel of choice. An erroneous deprivation of a person's retained counsel of choice in a criminal matter is a violation of that person's Sixth Amendment right to counsel and grounds for reversal of a criminal conviction."

White owned a sign shop in Delbarton. Federal prosecutors say then-Mingo County sheriff Eugene Crum owed White about $3,000 for election campaign materials -- but instead of paying White, Crum had him arrested for selling drugs, according to the charges against Sparks and Thornsbury.

White and his first lawyer, Charles "Butch" West, then began talking to federal agents about giving prescription pills 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 got word to White that if he switched lawyers to one favored by them and stopped talking to federal investigators, he would get a lighter sentence.

White then switched lawyers from West to Ronald Rumora. White then entered into a plea agreement offered by Sparks that dropped three of five charges and would allow his sentences to run at the same time, according to prosecutors. Also, Sparks reduced White's bail amount from $20,000 to $10,000, Sparks admitted.

White pleaded guilty April 8 to delivery of oxycodone and possession of oxycodone and morphine with an attempt to deliver.

Thornsbury was told about the scheme and agreed with it, the former judge admitted at his plea hearing. Thornsbury sentenced White in May to 1 to 15 years on both charges and ordered the sentences to run at the same time. White was also given credit for 120 days already served in jail.

Baisden pleaded guilty to an unrelated federal charge.

Rumora says he knew nothing about the scheme the officials admitted to in federal court until they were charged. He filed the petition asking White's guilty plea be vacated on Oct. 31.

White hired back West earlier this month, although he said he has nothing against Rumora. White also hired Charleston attorney David Barney, who said Monday he didn't want to comment about the case until after Friday's hearing. West and White couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

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


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