With a judge already implicated in two separate corruption probes, a commissioner and a chief magistrate in two more separate probes and a late sheriff in one of the judge’s probes, now, a prosecutor can be added to both the judge’s corruption cases.

Two more Mingo County officials are expected to plead guilty to charges stemming from a wide-reaching corruption investigation.  Mingo County Prosecuting Attorney Michael Sparks and the county’s chief magistrate, Dallas “Big Dal” Toler were charged in corruption cases in connection with a case that has also seen Judge Michael Thornsbury and the late sheriff Eugene Crum, among others be implicated.

Dallas Toler was charged with voter-registration fraud in a separate incident.  Sparks is charged in connection with a scheme involving a judge who has already pled guilty.  Sparks is expected to voluntarily surrender his law license and resign.  The charges were filed in a document called an information, which cannot be filed without cooperation from the defendant.  This usually indicates a plea agreement.  Sparks, who has been Mingo County’s prosecutor since 2005, is charged with one count of deprivation of rights under the color of law. He faces a maximum of one year in prison.

Over the summer, Sparks was implicated in the indictment of Judge Thornsbury who conspired to violate the constitutional rights of his former secretary’s husband by trying to falsely convict him.  The two had been having an affair and she refused to leave her husband.  That charge against Thornsbury will be dropped if Thornsbury’s plea deal for the drug investigation is accepted.  The indictment said that Sparks knew some of what Thornsbury was plotting.  Sparks said before that he never took part in Thornsbury’s alleged scheme against the ex-secretary’s husband and blamed an “intimidating environment” for not reporting the judge.  Federal prosecutors called Sparks a liar after he continued to deny his alleged role in both corruption cases.

At one point, Sparks had implied that the judge in the corruption case was falsely cooperating against him to better his own predicament.  He vehemently denied all allegations including through Facebook when the West Virginia Lawyer Disciplinary Counsel started an investigation.

But he had a change of heart recently, “Regrettably, I made a mistake in judgment and now accept the consequences,” Sparks said in an email statement after repeatedly denying his involvement.

Sparks deprived convicted drug dealer George White (also a sign salesman) of his rights while trying to cover up allegations that Mingo County’s former sheriff, Eugene Crum, illegally received prescription painkillers from White and then arrested him for drug dealing in an undercover sting in order to avoid paying his campaign debts to him.  Crum allegedly owed White $3,000 for election materials and instead arrested him in an undercover operation.  White’s lawyer was Charles “Butch” West, who had run against Sparks in a previous election.  He had arranged for White to give information to federal agents about giving drugs to Crum.  When Crum found out, he allegedly approached other officials, including Sparks and former county commissioner David Baisden, who helped him devise a scheme to silence White.

Sparks and others met with White’s brother and told him that if White switched lawyers (to someone they picked) and stopped cooperating with the federal government they would give him a lighter sentence.  Thornsbury was informed of the scheme, he was the presiding judge over White’s case, and he admitted to encouraging White to do it, as it was “in his best interest.”

Thornsbury pled guilty to a felony — conspiring to violate White’s constitutional rights — and resigned.  Sparks faces a misdemeanor.  White agreed to the plea deal and hired an attorney that the prosecution approved of.  Sparks then dropped three of the five charges and moved for his sentences to run concurrently.  Sparks also reduced White’s bail by 50%.

“Sparks did these acts knowing that a more favorable plea agreement for [White] was a necessary part of the scheme to coerce [White] info firing [his attorney] in order to protect the sheriff. Because Sparks was the county’s prosecuting attorney, his cooperation in this regard was necessary to the scheme’s success,” prosecutors wrote.

Thornsbury sentenced White to 1 to 15 years in jail.

“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,” Sparks said in his statement. 

Sparks also attempted to save face,

“Our hard work and dedication to the cause of justice during my tenure as Mingo County Prosecuting Attorney resulted in an unprecedented number of felony convictions and 100 percent trial conviction rate in murder and drug cases…Recently our voluntary substantial assistance in the federal investigation was instrumental in bringing Michael Thornsbury to justice.”

Baisden pled guilty to a separate federal corruption case and resigned as county commissioner.  Crum was killed in April when someone shot him as he ate his lunch in his cruiser.  Toler illegally submitted a voter registration application in the name of a felon who was on probation.

Toler was appointed magistrate by Thornsbury in early 2012 to take over the seat vacated by Crum, who left the position for sheriff.  Toler told the Williamson Daily News before his charges were filed, that he has

“served the public to the best of my ability and have always prided myself in treating each and every defendant who appeared before me in a fair and just manner. No matter what the situation was or what crime was committed, they deserved no less than that.  I hope that throughout this investigation and whatever the outcome may be, that you will remember a job well done by myself…”

After pleading guilty, Toler wrote on Facebook, “I have decided [there] are things in our lives that [are] just not fair.”


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