Ex-Mingo commissioner gets 20 months in prison
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A federal judge said he considered the many good deeds David Baisden had done as Mingo County commissioner before sentencing him to 20 months in prison Tuesday.
Baisden, 67, of Delbarton, pleaded guilty to an extortion charge last year, admitting he demanded that Appalachian Tire sell him tires for his personal vehicle at a discounted price only available for government vehicles.
When the company refused, Baisden -- who also was Mingo County's purchasing agent -- steered the county's contract to a different company. The move cost Appalachian Tire thousands of dollars, federal prosecutors have said.
U.S. District Court Judge John Copenhaver went below the federal advisory sentencing guidelines, which called for a sentence of 24 to 30 months. The extortion charge carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence.
The courtroom was packed with Baisden supporters, and the judge said he received about 20 letters and a petition signed by about 1,000 people supporting the former commissioner and assessor.
"You have done well to help your neighbors and others in your community," Copenhaver said, noting the "unusually large number of individuals filling the courtroom today."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby, however, asked the judge not to give much weight to Baisden's supporters.
"It is a fact of life, successful politicians are popular people," Ruby said. He asked the judge to give Baisden more than the sentencing guidelines called for.
"It's bad enough that the defendant made the threat. It's even worse he went through with it," Ruby said. "He damaged these people's livelihood in order to show his power."
Earlier this month, Baisden agreed to pay $2,236 in restitution to Appalachian Tire, as well as $5,489 to Goodyear.
Copenhaver said he also considered that Baisden lost his job as commissioner and can never hold public office again, both conditions of the plea deal. The judge said Baisden probably will lose his pension, as well.
"Incarceration is what we were aiming for, obviously," U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said after the sentencing. "We want to send a very clear message that this sort of conduct will not be condoned -- especially not in a place in Southern West Virginia, where corruption has been systemic."
Baisden's attorney asked the judge for 60 days before the sentence starts, to allow Baisden to undergo medical treatment. His attorney, Jim Cagle, said in court documents that Baisden has prostate cancer.
Copenhaver said Baisden must report to authorities by April 4.
Federal prosecutors have said Baisden participated in a separate scheme with other county officials, including disgraced former circuit judge Michael Thornsbury and former prosecuting attorney Michael Sparks.
Federal prosecutors said Sparks and Baisden devised a scheme to keep George White quiet about providing the county's late sheriff, Eugene Crum, with prescription drugs. They say Thornsbury knew of and approved of the scheme.
Thornsbury pleaded guilty to conspiring to deprive White of his constitutional rights, while Sparks pleaded guilty to depriving White of his rights.
Baisden was not charged in that incident. Ruby told Copenhaver during the sentencing hearing that, if necessary, he would provide evidence that Baisden admitted to participating in that scheme. The judge said it wasn't.
Reach Kate White at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1723.