The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

State News

September 6, 2013

Kanawha prosecutor unable to assist Mingo probe

CHARLESTON — The Kanawha County prosecutor’s office can’t assist a secretary of state investigation into allegations of election law violations in Mingo County because of a conflict of interest.

West Virginia election officials are looking into whether several 2012 candidates illegally contributed money to a committee formed to elect Democrats in Mingo County.

The Team Mingo 2012 PAC does not qualify for such contributions under a state law that limits how a candidate’s campaign committee can spend its money.

Team Mingo received funding from four candidates: state Agriculture Commissioner Walt Helmick, state Treasurer John Perdue and state Sens. Mark Wills and Art Kirkendoll. Each of these candidates won in November except Wills, and both his district and Kirkendoll’s include parts of Mingo County.

Election filings last month show the Team Mingo 2012 PAC returned $1,000 to the Kirkendoll, Perdue and Helmick campaigns and $700 to the Wills campaign.

Philip Morrison, executive director of the West Virginia Prosecuting Attorneys Institute, told the Charleston Daily Mail that people within the Kanawha County prosecutor’s office have worked closely with many people in the Legislature on potential legislation. Morrison said he didn’t know the targets of any particular secretary of state investigation, but he said the Kanawha County prosecutor’s office said there could be a conflict.

Instead, the Raleigh County prosecutor has agreed to work on the case. The Mingo County Circuit Court still needs to officially approve the pick before any special prosecutor can work on the case.

Mingo County Prosecutor Michael Sparks also confirmed this week that he had asked the court to be disqualified from any secretary of state investigation.

“The West Virginia Secretary of State is currently investigating formal complaints of election law violations by certain Mingo County elected officials,” Sparks wrote in the request for a special prosecuting attorney. He did not name the officials but said he is “statutory counsel” for some of the people being investigated.

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