The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

November 19, 2013

Former Mingo County prosecutor pleads guilty in federal corruption case


By The Associated Press

CHARLESTON — A former Mingo County prosecutor pleaded guilty Monday in a federal corruption case.

Michael Sparks pleaded guilty to deprivation of rights under color of law in U.S. District Court in Charleston. He faces a year in prison when sentenced on the misdemeanor count Feb. 24.

Sparks resigned in October after being charged in a scheme to protect former Sheriff Eugene Crum from revelations that Crum bought drugs.

Crum was shot to death in April in an unrelated attack as he ate lunch in his vehicle.

Federal prosecutors say Sparks and others had hatched a scheme to keep Crum’s alleged drug supplier and campaign sign maker, George White, from talking to the FBI about the late sheriff.

“Prosecutors are the representatives of the people,” U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said in a written statement. “Instead of advancing the interests of the good people of Mingo County, Mr. Sparks chose to roll over for the special interests of a corrupt political faction.”

Former Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury pleaded guilty last month to conspiring to deprive White of his constitutional rights and has resigned from the bench.  Thornsbury will be sentenced in January.

Former Mingo County commissioner David Baisden also faces sentencing in January on an unrelated federal extortion charge.

Federal prosecutors also implicated but didn’t charge Baisden and Thornsbury in the scheme involving White.

An unsealed federal search warrant shows that the FBI was investigating Crum on suspicion of money laundering in the weeks before he died. The document says Crum allegedly arranged to buy campaign signs with cash obtained from a doctor convicted of running a pill mill.  

The warrant says Dr. Diane Shafer paid White hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash to for making Crum’s campaign signs.

The FBI also was investigating whether Crum committed mail fraud by submitting fake campaign disclosure forms by mail, whether Crum possessed illegal drugs and whether he intended to distribute those drugs.  

Federal prosecutors say Crum had White arrested instead of paying a $3,000 debt to the sign maker. White then went to federal agents and told them about providing Crum with pills.  

When the alleged conspirators learned White was talking, they allegedly offered him a deal. Federal prosecutors say they told White he would get a lighter sentence if he fired his lawyer and hired one they preferred.

White was eventually sentenced on drug charges.  

Shafer was sentenced to six months in jail after pleading guilty in an unrelated case to misusing her Drug Enforcement Administration registration number.