CHARLESTON, WEST VIRGINIA — Former Mingo County Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury has been sentenced to four years and two months in federal prison, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin announced. The sentence comes after Thornsbury admitted his role in a conspiracy to coerce a local drug defendant, George White, into firing his defense counsel.
According to Thornsbury, he and other Mingo officials, including former County Commissioner David Baisden, former prosecuting attorney Michael Sparks, and former Sheriff Eugene Crum, learned that White was prepared to testify that then-Sheriff Crum had illegally received prescription pain medication and obtained unlawful campaign contributions. In order to protect Crum from the impact of White’s allegations, including a possible federal investigation, Thornsbury, Baisden, Sparks, Crum, and others conspired to pressure White into firing his defense attorney and replacing him with another attorney handpicked by the conspirators. After switching lawyers, White dropped his allegations against Crum and was sentenced to up to 15 years in state prison.
“Mr. Thornsbury’s conduct was shocking and appalling,” said U.S. Attorney Goodwin. “It was worthy of a stiff sentence. I’d like to see this whole episode be a call to action for all of us to make sure that this ‘Boss Hogg’ style of politics is a thing of the past — because it simply can’t be a part of our future.”
In August 2013, a federal grand jury also charged Thornsbury with conspiring to frame the husband of a woman with whom he was in a romantic relationship.
In imposing Thhornbury’s sentence, U.S. District Judge Thomas E. Johnston compared Thornsbury’s abuses of office to the actions of a Third World dictator.
With the sentence, Thornsbury becomes the third former Mingo official sent to federal prison in a wide-ranging federal corruption probe. He joins Baisden, sentenced in January to 20 months’ imprisonment, and former Mingo County Chief Magistrate Dallas Toler, sentenced in March to 27 months in prison. All three officials resigned their offices after being charged with federal crimes. Sparks, the fourth official charged in the investigation, has also resigned as a result of the charge against him.
The investigation of corruption in Mingo County is being conducted by the FBI and the West Virginia State Police. Counsel to the U.S. Attorney Steven R. Ruby and Assistant U.S. Attorney C. Haley Bunn are in charge of the prosecutions.