By John Raby
A former Mingo County commissioner was sentenced to more than a year and a half in prison Wednesday on a federal extortion charge.
U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver Jr. ordered David Baisden to report by April 4 to start his 20-month sentence.
Baisden is the first of four former public officials in Mingo County to be sentenced in a widespread probe of corruption that also snared 2013 convictions against former Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury, former county prosecutor Michael Sparks and ex-magistrate Dallas Toler.
Baisden pleaded guilty in October to trying to buy tires for his personal vehicle at a government discount in 2009, then terminating the county’s contract with Appalachian Tire when it refused to cooperate.
Earlier this month, Baisden agreed to pay a total of $7,700 in restitution to Appalachian Tire and Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. He will make monthly payments over three years. He had faced up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Baisden’s attorney, Jim Cagle, had sought probation, noting that Baisden had no salary, lost his pension and has prostate cancer.
Federal prosecutors sought a prison term between two and 2 1/2 years, saying that Baisden abused his office powers and that stern punishment was the only effective deterrent to public corruption in a county that had seen plenty of it in recent years.
“It is outrageous for a public official to abuse his power in this way,” assistant U.S. attorney Steve Ruby told the court.
Baisden read a statement before sentencing in which he apologized to Appalachian Tire, the Mingo County community and his co-workers. He asked the judge to look at his lifetime achievements, not his mistakes.
“I’m 67,” Baisden said. “Until now I’ve never been in trouble.”
The courtroom was packed with supporters. Two spoke of Baisden’s generosity, including volunteering his own time to dig graves in the community, securing wood to rebuild a ruined bridge for a widow, and donating money for church and youth sports causes.
“The court recognizes you’ve done many good deeds,” Copenhaver said. “You’ve done well to help your neighbors.”
Prosecutors have said Baisden’s actions cost Appalachian Tire tens of thousands of dollars. The Delbarton resident resigned from the county commission a week after his guilty plea. He also was the county’s purchasing agent.
The government also mentioned Baisden’s participation in an investigation that charged Sparks and Thornsbury with protecting the late Sheriff Eugene Crum from revelations that Crum bought drugs from a campaign sign maker. Authorities said Sparks and Thornsbury kept the sign maker, George White, from talking to the FBI about Crum, who was killed in an unrelated shooting last April.
Baisden wasn’t charged in the case involving Sparks and Thornsbury, but the government noted that uncharged conduct was “an appropriate factor” for the court to consider at sentencing.
Last year, Sparks pleaded guilty to depriving White of his constitutional rights. )Thornsbury pleaded guilty to conspiring to deprive White of his rights.
Former county magistrate Dallas Toler pleaded guilty last year to federal charges that he illegally registered a convicted felon to vote in the 2012 primary election.
Toler, Sparks and Thornsbury resigned and will be sentenced later this year.