Former Gazette editor Don Marsh said southern West Virginia coal counties bear ugly aspects of a colony: Out-of-state owners bleed away mineral wealth, and two-bit local politicians scuffle over dregs that are left.
Mingo County may illustrate this principle. The Deep South region has suffered recurring waves of local corruption scandals as far back as anyone can recall.
Remember flamboyant Sheriff Johnie Owens, who went to prison for selling his office to a fellow politico? Owens often told how corrupt former Gov. Arch Moore hid from passersby by lying down "in the back seat of my car holding $12,000 up in his hand," begging Owens to deliver votes for him in an upcoming election.
Currently, four elected Mingo politicians have pleaded guilty in an ongoing federal probe. The latest is Chief Magistrate Dallas Toler, who confessed that he rigged illegal voter registration papers for a felon on probation.
Before him, Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury and prosecutor Michael Sparks both pleaded guilty to concealing drug offenses by the late Sheriff Eugene Crum. And County Commissioner David Baisden confessed to extorting a personal sweetheart discount from a tire dealer holding a county contract.
We wonder how many more shoes will hit the floor as the U.S. crackdown continues. We wonder how decent Mingo families can live with the depressing awareness of a cesspool in their public courthouse.
West Virginians owe gratitude to U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin, the FBI and other federal agents who are performing this cleanup. Obviously, the local prosecutor couldn't do it, because he was among the scoundrels.Corruption may seem eternal in southern coal counties -- but we hope the "feds" never stop trying to eradicate it.