8-19-13 W.Va. judge, county official face federal chargesLatest Headlines Monday, August 19th, 2013 Would you like to receive e-mail alerts when we have breaking news? Click here!
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Federal prosecutors on Thursday charged Mingo County Circuit Court Judge Michael Thornsbury with abusing his power and commandeering a southern West Virginia grand jury in a failed attempt to frame a romantic rival.
It was another blow to a coalfields county reeling from the assassination of its sheriff in April. Earlier in the day, prosecutors charged County Commissioner Dave Baisden with extortion in an unrelated federal case involving local tire dealer.
U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said he is not seeking to hold Thornsbury in jail before his trial and it would be up to the courts to determine if he remains on the bench. A spokeswoman for the state Supreme Court said it is “moving with deliberation … for the immediate suspension” of the judge.
Goodwin said none of the men accused of helping Thornsbury in his “campaign to persecute” will be charged. However, “the investigation into Mingo County corruption is ongoing.”
Baisden was released on $10,000 bond and ordered not to contact witnesses, including his two fellow county commissioners. U.S. Magistrate Dwayne Tinsley said Baisden can conduct routine county business but cannot discuss the case.
Prosecutors say Thornsbury, 57, was having an affair with his married secretary when she tried to end the relationship. He then set about to frame her husband to get him out of the picture. The husband is identified only as R.W., an employee of H. Coal Co., in court documents.
Thornsbury is charged with conspiracy against a person’s rights in a newly unsealed indictment. His attorney, Steve Jory, didn’t immediately return messages.
The conspiracy included an attempt to have someone plant drugs on the man, but the indictment says the judge’s friend failed to go through with the plan to put a magnetic metal box on R.W.’s vehicle.
When that failed, prosecutors say the judge got a state trooper to file a false complaint against R.W. for larceny. The judge wanted the trooper to pursue a case against R.W. for salvaging mine-roof drill bits and scrap from his employer, even though he had permission to do so.
The indictment says that Thornsbury had befriended the trooper and “purposely cultivated a relationship” to influence the way he carried out his law enforcement duties.
That trooper has been placed on paid administrative leave while an internal investigation is conducted, said State Police spokesman Sgt. Michael Baylous.
County prosecutor Michael Sparks intervened in the larceny case. The indictment says Sparks knew of the affair and “recognized that the criminal charges against R.W. were improper.” He disqualified himself from the matter and requested a special prosecutor.
The late sheriff, Eugene Crum, was working as magistrate at the time and dismissed the larceny case against R.W. before Thornsbury’s scheme was discovered, the complaint says.
The indictment also says that Thornsbury tapped a friend, the county’s emergency services director, to become the grand jury foreman. The judge allegedly wrote subpoenas and had the grand jury issue them to help get information about R.W.
That scheme was exposed when one of the businesses refused to cooperate.
The indictment also says that when R.W. became the victim of an assault, the judge arranged for him to be identified as the perpetrator so he would receive “an exceptionally harsh sentence.”
The county prosecutor dismissed the charges in that case last fall.
Goodwin said the trooper and another man who assisted Thornsbury won’t be charged.
Thornsbury has served as a circuit judge since January 1997, when he was appointed by former Gov. Gaston Caperton to replace Elliott “Spike” Maynard.
Thornsbury won election to a full term in 1998. Before that he’d been in private practice for eight years.
He was also an assistant Mingo County prosecutor from 1981 to 1983.
Baisden, meanwhile, is also accused of misusing his public office, but in his case, by trying to buy tires for his personal vehicle from a county supplier at a government discount, then terminating the county’s contract when the seller refused.
Charleston attorney James Cagle said his client was in federal custody and set to appear before a magistrate in Charleston at 3 p.m. Thursday.
Calls to the County Commission office went unanswered Thursday, and a secretary in the prosecutor’s office said no one was available to comment.
The charges against Baisden, 66, center on his dual role as purchasing officer for the county. He’s charged with extortion.
That indictment says that from 2007 through June 2009, Appalachian Tire was the supplier of tires for county-owned vehicles in Williamson, and Baisden routinely completed purchase orders and took delivery. The tires were sold at a special, discounted price available only for government-owned vehicles.
In June 2009, the indictment says, Baisden ordered a county employee to buy a set of tires at that price for a personal vehicle, but Appalachian Tire declined.
The indictment says 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.
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 said 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. Goodwin said the move cost the company tens of thousands of dollars.
Mingo County was still recovering from the execution Crum when news of the indictments broke.
Crum, 59, was shot twice in the head while parked in his cruiser, in a spot in downtown Williamson where he frequently had lunch. The suspect fled the scene and allegedly pulled a gun on a pursuing deputy.
Tennis Melvin Maynard was shot and wounded by the deputy, and he’s now facing first-degree murder charges. His trial is set for October.
The motive for the slaying has never been revealed.
Crum had been county magistrate for more than a decade when he stepped down to run for sheriff last year. He made combating the area’s prescription drug abuse crisis a top priority, helping to organize raids even before he took office in January.
His widow, Rosie, has since been sworn in as interim sheriff pending the 2014 elections.