A former West Virginia judge is facing up to ten years in federal prison after pleading guilty to charges that he conspired to protect a county sheriff from allegations of drug-related activity.
Former Mingo County Circuit Court Judge Michael Thornsbury, 57, pleaded guilty on October 2, 2013 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, and will be sentenced in January 2014. He resigned from his elected post the same day and consented to voluntary disbarment in a letter to the state Office of Disciplinary Counsel.
Thornsbury was charged with conspiring with Mingo County Sheriff Eugene Crum and other officials to offer a lighter sentence to a defendant from whom Crum had bought drugs and owed a $3,000 debt for campaign signs. According to federal prosecutors, that defendant, George White, is now serving a 1-to-15-year sentence imposed by Thornsbury, who offered a more lenient sentence if White would fire his attorney and hire another one preferred by the judge. The offer was intended to silence White’s lawyer, who was providing information about Sheriff Crum to federal investigators and the news media.
“For a judge to violate someone’s constitutional rights is really beyond the pale,” said U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin. “But to violate someone’s rights in order to obstruct a federal investigation, that’s really unthinkable. Elected officials shouldn’t be treated differently than anyone else.”
In April 2013, Sheriff Crum was shot in the head and killed as he sat in his patrol car in Williamson, West Virginia. He was being investigated by the FBI at the time; had he not been murdered he likely would have faced criminal charges.
Thornsbury was named in an earlier federal indictment in August 2013 that accused him of engaging in a five-year vendetta to frame his secretary’s husband, Robert Woodruff, whom he viewed as a romantic rival. Thornsbury reportedly had a state trooper arrest Woodruff on bogus charges, attempted to have drugs planted in his vehicle, arranged to have a friend appointed as foreman of the grand jury to issue subpoenas against Woodruff, and had false charges of theft and assault and battery filed against him. The charges related to the vendetta will be dismissed pursuant to Thornsbury’s plea agreement in the case involving Crum and White.
In addition to Thornsbury, former Mingo County prosecutor Michael Sparks was charged in connection with the efforts to conceal Sheriff Crum’s drug-related activities. Sparks, who allegedly conspired with Thornsbury to offer a lighter sentence to White, resigned on October 9, 2013 and was disbarred by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.
“Regrettably, I made a mistake in judgment and now accept the consequences,” Sparks wrote in his letter of resignation. “My attempt to prevent potential injury to the reputation and drug enforcement efforts of the late Sheriff Eugene Crum was unjustifiable. The end should never justify the means in criminal justice.” He is expected to plead guilty.
Further, former Mingo County Commissioner David Baisden pleaded guilty to extortion charges in an unrelated case, in which he canceled the county’s contract with a tire company after it declined to sell him tires for his personal vehicle at the county’s discounted rate. He will be sentenced on January 14, 2014.
And lastly, Mingo County chief magistrate Dallas “Big Dal” Toler was charged in federal court on October 9, 2013; he is accused of registering a convicted felon to vote in 2012 even though he knew the person was a felon. He resigned from office and also is expected to plead guilty. Toler had been appointed as a magistrate by Judge Thornsbury to replace Crum, who held that office prior to running for sheriff.