The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

October 1, 2013

Mingo commissioner pleads guilty to extortion

Baisden must resign as commissioner before sentencing

By John Raby
Associated Press

CHARLESTON — A Mingo County commissioner pleaded guilty to a federal extortion charge Tuesday involving a tire dealer.

David Baisden was accused of trying to buy tires for his personal vehicle at a government discount, then terminating the county’s contract with Appalachian Tire when it refused to cooperate.

Baisden, 66, faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. U.S. District Judge John Copenhaver set Baisden’s sentencing for Jan. 14.

Under the plea agreement, Baisden must resign from the commission before he is sentenced.

Baisden declined comment after the hearing. He’s the first of two Mingo County officials indicted last month to plead guilty.

On Wednesday, Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury is expected to plead guilty to charges that he conspired with Baisden, Mingo County Prosecutor Michael Sparks and Sheriff Eugene Crum to spare Crum from paying a $3,000 debt and to protect Crum’s reputation and career by jailing a man who sold him drugs.

In exchange, charges are expected to be dismissed against Thornsbury in a separate federal case in which prosecutors say Thornsbury tried to frame his former mistress’ husband for crimes the man didn’t commit.

Crum was killed in April in an unrelated shooting. Federal prosecutors say Crum owed campaign-sign maker George White money but didn’t want to pay.

White is serving one to 15 years under a plea agreement that prosecutors say he was forced to accept after being ordered to fire his own attorney and accept one chosen by the judge.

Sparks, who hasn’t been charged, faces an Oct. 16 hearing before the state Supreme Court on a motion by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel to suspend his law license.

The group that investigates alleged misconduct by lawyers claims Sparks lied to the high court last month when he said he didn’t know about alleged corruption by Thornsbury. The office said a sealed affidavit by FBI Special Agent Joseph Ciccarelli reveals that Sparks admitted he knew about the crimes that Thornsbury is now charged with committing.

Sparks has continued to deny he has committed any misconduct or crimes and has requested more time to fully respond to the latest allegations.

The charge against Baisden centered on his dual role as purchasing officer for the county. He’s since been removed from that post.

According to an indictment, Appalachian Tire was the supplier of tires for county-owned vehicles in Williamson from 2007 to June 2009, and Baisden routinely completed purchase orders. The tires were sold at a special, discounted price available only for government-owned vehicles.

In June 2009, Baisden ordered a county employee to buy a set of tires at that price for a personal vehicle, but Appalachian Tire declined.

The employee warned the company that Baisden was “a powerful official” and that Appalachian Tire risked losing its business with the county if Baisden didn’t get the government price, according to the indictment.

On June 12, the indictment says, Baisden left a similar threat on the company’s voice mail. Appalachian Tire continued to refuse the demand, citing corporate policy. Three days later, Baisden called again and left another voice message, saying the county would stop buying from Appalachian Tire.

Prosecutors say the commissioner then directed the employee to cease the business relationship and find a new tire supplier. U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin has said the move cost the company tens of thousands of dollars.

“Elected officials have to play by the same rules as everyone else,” Goodwin said in a statement. “This defendant abused his power to shake down an honest business for special favors. It’s brazen, ugly corruption. Old-fashioned graft like this destroys public confidence in government. Citizens deserve better.”