The Times West Virginian

West Virginia

September 20, 2013

Feds charge judge in drug-related conspiracy

MORGANTOWN — A southern West Virginia sheriff assassinated on the job was hailed as a hero at his funeral in April for crusading against the scourge of illegal drugs destroying his community. He had filed more drug indictments in his first three months than in the previous eight years.

But a federal conspiracy charge filed Thursday against the longtime local judge suggests that carefully cultivated public image was a facade, and that late Mingo County Sheriff Eugene Crum had himself been buying prescription painkillers from a man who made his campaign signs.

The news shocked the head of the West Virginia Sheriffs Association, who said the allegation “flies in the face of what we do.”

Nearly 400 deputies, troopers and officers from several states attended Crum’s funeral after he was killed in a shooting apparently unrelated to the conspiracy. Association director Rodney Miller said many may now feel “a bit of betrayal.”

“It’s a rarity,” Miller said. “But good people go bad sometimes.”

The revelations came from federal prosecutors, who charged suspended Mingo County Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury in a conspiracy they say was cooked up to protect Crum’s reputation and career.

The conspiracy laid out in court documents also involves a local prosecutor and a commissioner in Mingo County, a coalfields community along the Kentucky border that’s long been plagued by corruption.

U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said the goal of the plot was to stop a confidential informant from telling the FBI about his drug deals with Crum by putting the dealer behind bars.

Thornsbury was charged with one count of conspiracy in a document called an information, signaling he is cooperating with federal prosecutors. On Thursday, prosecutors asked a judge to schedule a plea hearing for Thornsbury.

The charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

Thornsbury’s attorney, Stephen Jory, declined comment.

The U.S. attorney’s office declined to say whether prosecutor Michael Sparks or County Commissioner Dave Baisden will be charged. Sparks did not immediately return messages from The Associated Press but told the Williamson Daily News he’s “shocked beyond belief” by the allegations.

“I had absolutely nothing to do with this,” he told the paper, suggesting that Thornsbury is lying “to exact vengeance against me in retaliation for my cooperation with his federal investigation.”

The state Office of Disciplinary Counsel, meanwhile, moved to have his law license suspended, citing “egregious misconduct.”

The sheriff’s widow, Rosie Crum, did not immediately respond to a message left at her home. She briefly served as sheriff after her husband’s death.

Bruce Stanley, a Mingo County native and Pittsburgh attorney who has appeared many times before Thornsbury, said he hopes the corruption probe continues.

“One can only hope that the U.S. attorney keeps digging,” he said, “though it’s quite possible he might reach China before he gets to the bottom of the corruption afflicting southern West Virginia.”

Thornsbury had been the county’s only judge since 1997, before was indicted last month and accused of abusing his power in a separate case. Prosecutors say the judge had an affair with his secretary and tried to frame her husband repeatedly between 2008 and 2012 after she broke things off.

He is accused of enlisting the help of a state trooper and commandeering the grand jury, and was set to stand trial next month. Prosecutors didn’t say how the new case will affect those charges.

The new charge against the judge paints a picture of a tightknit team ganging up on a local sign maker identified as G.W. in the court documents.

Attorney Charles S. West confirmed G.W. was his longtime client and the owner of White’s Sign Co. in Delbarton, George Ruben White.

The slain sheriff, who was also a longtime magistrate, was elected last fall on a campaign to clean up a pervasive drug problem. While campaigning, he bought signs and other materials from White and still owed him $3,000 when he took office in January, the court document says.

When White demanded payment, prosecutors say, Crum sent a confidential informant to buy the prescription painkiller oxycodone from him. Prosecutors say White was arrested Feb. 1.

White then hired West, who was running for county prosecutor at the time, and met with FBI agents. The U.S. attorney’s office says White told the agents he had sold narcotics to Crum “on multiple occasions” while he was the magistrate.

Crum and prosecutor Sparks then went to the judge and told him White had incriminated the sheriff. They let White know that if he fired his attorney he could get a lighter sentence, prosecutors say.

West said he had never experienced anything like this in 24 years of criminal defense work.

“Hit me right across the face with it. I didn’t know it was coming,” West said.

He said he would have used every piece of evidence he had to help White, who is now serving one to 15 years for two counts of manufacturing or delivering narcotics.

Crum, 59, died in a parking lot as he ate lunch in his car. He was keeping watch on a former “pill mill,” a place that had been shut down for illegally dispensing prescription drugs, to be sure it didn’t reopen.

Tennis Melvin Maynard, a onetime boxing student of Crum’s, is charged with first-degree murder and awaiting trial. Maynard’s family claims the former sheriff had molested him and that the prosecutor’s office ignored his reports. Sparks has denied those claims.

On Wednesday, Sparks recused himself from Maynard’s case, citing only “an emerging conflict of interest.”

 

1
Text Only
West Virginia
  • Attorney general reaches $950,000 settlement with three financial groups

    West Virginia’s attorney general has reached a $950,000 settlement with three companies over allegations of antitrust law violations.

    July 28, 2014

  • Woman convicted in teen’s slaying moved

    A Monongalia County teenager has been transferred to a state prison to complete her sentence for the slaying of another teenager.
    The Lakin Correctional Center near Point Pleasant said Friday Rachel Shoaf has been booked at the Division of Corrections prison. Shoaf turned 18 last month and had been held in a juvenile facility.

    July 26, 2014

  • Board suspends clinic operator’s license

    A West Virginia board Friday suspended the license of the operator of a pain management clinic where investigators found syringes were being reused. It was the second disciplinary action involving the doctor’s license within a decade.

    July 26, 2014

  • Candidates: Leave global warming debate to scientists

    Two West Virginia congressional hopefuls said during their first candidate forum matchup Thursday that the global warming debate is better left to scientists.
    Democrat Nick Casey and Republican Alex Mooney added that other countries should step up in reducing carbon emissions.

    July 24, 2014

  • Lawsuit filed over Dirty Girl Mud Run

    A lawsuit has been filed against the producers of a run that was canceled in Charleston in which participants were told they wouldn’t be issued refunds.

    July 24, 2014

  • WVa. man sues GM over wife's death

    A West Virginia man has filed a lawsuit against General Motors Corp., claiming a defective ignition switch in a Chevrolet Cobalt caused a 2006 accident that killed his pregnant wife.

    July 24, 2014

  • Feds commit to health studies on spilled chemical

    After largely dismissing the possibility of long-term health problems, federal officials will conduct more studies on chemicals that spilled into West Virginia’s largest drinking water supply in January.
    In the next two months, federal health officials are also heading back to West Virginia.

    July 24, 2014

  • Park Service assesses impact of W.Va. attractions

    Four National Park Service attractions in West Virginia drew a total of 1.5 million visitors last year.

    July 23, 2014

  • This weekend's 'Dirty Girl' race canceled

    Organizers of a Charleston running event that was canceled for this weekend says it won’t issue refunds.

    July 23, 2014

  • Reporter heard truck backfiring, not gunshot

    Similar sounds in different circumstances create different reactions. That is so for WVVA reporter Annie Moore, who last Monday told police someone fired a gun at her while she was shooting file footage in the area of a recent murder.

    July 19, 2014

House Ads
Featured Ads