Substantial assistance motion filed in ex-judge’s case

Rachel Dove rbaldwin@civitasmedia.com

June 5, 2014

By Rachel Dove


CHARLESTON - According to federal court documents filed this week, former Mingo County Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury has played a big role in the criminal convictions of a former Mingo commissioner and prosecuting attorney, and has received a recommendation of a possible reduced sentence for his cooperation and assistance.

U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin filed a substantial assistance motion on Tuesday, asking a federal judge to shave off 10 months from whatever sentence is handed down Monday, based on the level of assistance Thornsbury is said to have provided federal prosecutors during its corruption investigation in Mingo County. To date, that investigation has led to the convictions of former commissioner David Baisden, ex-prosecuting attorney Michael Sparks and former magistrate Dallas Toler, and Goodwin states in the motion that “further prosecutions may stem from this investigation.”

“In addition to the information regarding Baisden and Sparks, the former judge has also met with the United States on numerous occasions since his plea hearing in the fall of 2013 to provide crucial information in the ongoing investigation of public corruption in Mingo County.”

Federal advisory sentencing guidelines require a prison sentence of between 30 and 37 months for the felony charge of conspiring to deprive a man of his constitutional rights. The charge carries a statutory maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Johnston will be presiding over Thornsbury’s sentencing, but first he must agree to accept the deal that the former judge made with federal prosecutors that drops the first set of charges he was indicted on. That charge accuses Thornsbury of violating the constitutional rights of his former secretary’s husband by trying to put the man in jail on fabricated charges, with the assistance of a select few close friends and political allies. Thornsbury and Baisden were indicted on the same day last August. Baisden was taken into custody outside the Mingo County garage by federal agents and West Virginia State troopers, while the former judge elected to turn himself in. Thornsbury was the first of the two to reach a plea agreement with federal prosecutors, and that was also mentioned in Goodwin’s statement as being in his favor.

Shortly after the ex-judge struck that deal, he began to provide federal prosecutors with information regarding criminal conduct by Baisden “beyond that which had been alleged in the indictment of Baisden,” the motion states.

According to additional statements from Goodwin in the motion, once federal prosecutors informed Baisden of the extent of information his friend and political ally had provided against him, the former commissioner agreed to plead guilty to a felony extortion charge, admitting that he demanded Appalachian Tire sell him tires for his personal vehicle at a discounted price only available for government vehicles. U.S. District Court Judge John Copenhaver sentenced him to 20 months in prison earlier this year.

During Baisden’s sentencing, his attorney, Jim Cagle, called two men to testify to Baisden’s character, Rev. Elder Maynard and Benjamin Sloan. The substantial assistance motion states that Thornsbury “provided on short notice, a great deal of information that the United States used to cross examine character witnesses called by Baisden,” and says that “thanks to that - the United States was able to examine and effectively discredit Baisden’s character witnesses.”

Baisden’s name was mentioned by federal prosecutors in the charge Thornsbury admitted to. To protect Mingo’s former sheriff, Eugene Crum, Thornsbury claims to have gone went along with a plan to keep defendant George White from providing federal investigators with information that White had sold prescription pills to Crum while he was serving as a magistrate.

Crum, who court documents say owed White (owner/operator of a sign company) $3,000 for campaign materials, allegedly sent an undercover police officer to buy prescription pills from White. After White’s arrest, federal investigators approached his lawyer, former Williamson mayor Charles “Butch” West, and asked to talk to White about allegations that he provided drugs to Crum. White told FBI agents that, on “multiple occasions prior to his arrest, he unlawfully provided Crum with prescription narcotic pills at Crum’s request,” prosecutors said.

Federal prosecutors say Baisden, Sparks and Crum devised a scheme to persuade White to fire West and hire an attorney of their choosing and to cease any talks with federal investigators, in exchange for a lighter sentence from Thornsbury.

Since all this evidence has come to light, Senior Status Circuit Judge John Cummings threw out White’s conviction and dismissed the charges with prejudice earlier this year. Sparks and Baisden have since resigned as part of plea deals with federal prosecutors. In October, Sparks was charged with depriving White of his constitutional rights, a misdemeanor. Baisden never faced charges related to White.

Thornsbury “also provided important information regarding the conduct of former prosecutor Michael Sparks,” Goodwin wrote.

“The prospect of his testimony against Sparks was a significant factor in the prosecutor’s decision to plead guilty,” the motion states.

Sparks faces a maximum of one year in jail when he is sentenced Monday at 1:30 p.m.