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Feds to probe evidence handling in Mingo case

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Federal prosecutors are investigating the handling of evidence in a Mingo County drug case linked to a corruption probe.

A former deputy, Dave Rockel, delivered a box of evidence, including some which could possibly have been used against George White, hours after a judge dismissed the charges against White on Monday, Mingo County Sheriff James Smith told the Charleston Daily Mail.

"I've been here for 14 years, and I've never seen nothing like that before," Smith told the newspaper.

"It shocked us when he came in. We just took it, I logged it in my evidence [locker] and I contacted the FBI, to see what they wanted to do with it," said Smith, who had fired Rockel last September.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby said the U.S. Attorney's Office is investigating.

"We've been informed of irregularities involving the handling of evidence in the George White case," Ruby told the newspaper.

A telephone listing for Rockel could not be found.

One of White's attorneys, David Barney, and Boone County prosecutor Keith Randolph said they don't think the evidence would have had an impact on White's case. Randolph served as special prosecutor for the case.

"It does nothing more than to create more suspicion surrounding the case, I think," Randolph told the newspaper. "As if there wasn't enough already there."

White had pleaded guilty in April 2013 to state charges of delivery of oxycodone and possession of oxycodone and morphine with an attempt to deliver. He was sentenced in May 2013 to one to 15 years in prison. Circuit Judge John Cummings later vacated the plea and ordered a new trial. Cummings dismissed the charges on Monday without prejudice, which means they cannot be filed again.

Randolph requested the charges' dismissal, citing problems with evidence and other issues.

White's case was linked to a federal corruption investigation that led to the resignations of former Mingo County prosecutor Michael Sparks and former Mingo circuit judge Michael Thornsbury.

Federal prosecutors say Sparks, Thornsbury and former Mingo County commissioner David Baisden had cooked up a scheme to keep White from talking to the FBI about the late Sheriff Eugene Crum. White was told that if he switched lawyers and pleaded guilty, he would receive a lighter sentence from Thornsbury.

Federal prosecutors say Crum had White, who is a sign maker, arrested in early 2013 instead of paying $3,000 he owed for campaign signs made by White. White then went to federal agents and told them he provided Crum with pills.

Sparks pleaded guilty in November 2013 to federal charges of depriving White of his constitutional rights. Thornsbury pleaded guilty in October 2013 to conspiring to deprive White of his constitutional rights. Both men are awaiting sentencing.

Baisden was sentenced in January to more than a year and a half in prison on an unrelated extortion charge. He pleaded guilty in October 2013 to trying to buy tires for his personal vehicle at a government discount in 2009, then terminating the county's contract with Appalachian Tire when it refused to cooperate.


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