CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Recent federal charges in Mingo County have county residents hoping -- and maybe believing -- that decades of political corruption could come to an end.
In the past few weeks, the county's only circuit judge and a county commissioner have agreed to plead guilty to federal charges. The latest charge against the judge includes allegations that the county's prosecuting attorney and the former sheriff, who was shot to death in April, conspired to stop a federal investigation into the sheriff.
"I'm glad that the FBI, anyone, is looking into the corruption inside that courthouse," Ashley Newsome of Williamson said Thursday. "They need to start all the way at the top and get rid of everyone going down."
The arrests and indictments might not be over. U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin, talking about Circuit Judge's Michael Thornsbury's decision to plead guilty, said, "He has agreed to cooperate with our investigation -- and our investigation moves forward."
That leaves some residents wondering if anyone will be left to run the county once the crackdown is over.
Newly appointed Sheriff James Smith said residents are looking to him to restore the trustworthiness of the sheriff's department after federal prosecutors accused late Sheriff Eugene Crum of illegally obtaining prescription pills from a reported drug dealer, George White, when Crum was a county magistrate.
Crum, as sheriff, then conspired to stop White from providing information to the FBI, prosecutors said in the latest charge against Thornsbury, who allegedly conspired to prevent White from exercising his constitutional rights.
Crum's family denies the allegations. The sheriff was shot to death on April 3 in Williamson; a Delbarton man awaits trial on murder charges in that case.
The allegations against Crum are unsettling, Smith said. Part of rebuilding the public's trust is to cooperate with FBI agents and give them anything they need from the sheriff's department, he said.
"They'll find no roadblocks here now," Smith said. "Whatever they need, we will do it for them. We welcome them."
Smith fired the department's chief field deputy, Dave Rockel, Tuesday. Rockel, a former Williamson police chief, was described Thursday by federal prosecutors as a "close associate and political ally" of Eugene Crum. He joined the sheriff's department after Crum was killed and Crum's wife, Rosie, was named interim sheriff.
When Rosie Crum stepped down as interim sheriff, she recommended that Rockel become sheriff. Instead, county commissioners chose Smith, who said he plans to run to keep the job in the next election. Smith ran against Crum and lost to him in the Democratic primary for sheriff last year.
Thornsbury has agreed to plead guilty to the latest charge. He pleaded not guilty to charges filed against him last month by Goodwin's office. In that case, prosecutors alleged, the judge tried to get Robert Woodruff, the husband of Thornsbury's former secretary and lover, thrown in jail on trumped-up charges.
A West Virginia State Police trooper and a Gilbert police officer allegedly helped the judge in his campaign against Woodruff. The trooper, Brandon Moore, has been suspended; the Gilbert officer, Nathan Glanden, was still on the job as of last week.
The West Virginia Supreme Court has suspended Thornsbury without pay, and also suspended his law license. The court appointed John Cummings, a senior-status judge from Cabell County, to replace Thornsbury on the Mingo County bench. Thomas McHugh, a retired Supreme Court justice, is assisting Cummings.