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Feds want ex-Mingo prosecutor to serve 1 year in prison

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Federal prosecutors want a judge to give former Mingo County prosecuting attorney Michael Sparks the maximum one year in prison when he's sentenced next week for his part in a scheme to protect the county's late sheriff.

That one year in prison wouldn't be enough, according to prosecutors, if it weren't for Sparks' cooperation with their investigation.

Sparks, 44, pleaded guilty in November to one charge of deprivation of rights under the color of law, a misdemeanor.

"His conduct was deplorable. He grossly abused his office as prosecutor, trampling a citizen's constitutional rights in order to obstruct a federal investigation and protect his political faction's dominance," Assistant U.S. Attorneys Steve Ruby and Haley Bunn wrote in a sentencing memorandum filed Wednesday. "It is rare that a case plainly warrants a sentence at the statutory maximum, but this case surely does."

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Johnston also could fine Sparks up to $100,000.

In November, Sparks admitted that he was part of a scheme to deprive George White of his right to have the attorney of his choice. The scheme was an attempt to thwart an investigation into the county's sheriff, Eugene Crum.

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.

Then-Mingo County commissioner David Baisden and Crum told Sparks they would try to talk White into firing West, in order to keep them from talking. Baisden, according to the stipulation of facts Sparks pleaded guilty to, offered White a more favorable plea agreement if he fired West.

After White did fire West, Sparks gave White the more favorable plea agreement, Sparks said.

Baisden was sentenced last month to 20 months in federal prison on an unrelated extortion charge.

Crum was shot to death in Williamson on April 3 of last year.

Johnston will sentence former Mingo circuit judge Michael Thornsbury on April 21. Thornsbury pleaded guilty to conspiring to deprive White of his constitutional rights, a felony, by knowing about the scheme to protect the sheriff and going along with it.

"Were it not for [Sparks'] cooperation with federal authorities, a year in prison would fall short of just punishment. [Sparks], however, was the first elected official in Mingo County to cooperate in the current federal investigation of corruption there," prosecutors under U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said in their sentencing memorandum. "His early assistance was crucial, a fact accounted for in the United States' charging decision."

Sparks resigned as Mingo prosecutor after federal prosecutors charged him in the form of an information, which cannot be filed without a defendant's consent and usually signals that the defendant is cooperating with prosecutors. His resignation was included in the deal with prosecutors.

Sparks had denied the allegations when the West Virginia Lawyer Disciplinary Counsel filed charges against him. As part of his plea deal, he agreed to give up his law license for at least five years and to never seek or serve in public office again.

Based on Sparks' pre-sentencing report, federal advisory guidelines would have called for a sentence between 27 and 33 months, according to prosecutors. Prosecutors wrote that they planned to file a substantial-assistance motion because of Sparks' cooperation.

"The lengthy guidelines range speaks to the seriousness of the Defendant's actions. And in light of the applicable guidelines calculations, a sentence less than a year would both undermine respect for the law and create unwarranted disparities between the Defendant and other defendants similarly situated," prosecutors wrote.

"Mr. Sparks pled guilty to a misdemeanor so the maximum possible sentence that could ever be imposed is one year," said his attorney, Kent Varney.

Varney said he would wait until Wednesday to discuss any sentencing recommendations.

In August, Sparks was mentioned in an indictment that charged Thornsbury with conspiring to violate the constitutional rights of his former secretary's husband by trying to land him in jail. That charge against Thornsbury -- which said that Sparks knew at least some of what Thornsbury was allegedly plotting -- will be dropped if a judge accepts Thornsbury's plea agreement on a different charge.

Sparks has said before that he never took part in Thornsbury's alleged scheme against Robert Woodruff, the ex-secretary's husband, and blamed an "intimidating environment" for not reporting the judge.

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


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