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West Virginia county prosecutor charged in Mingo scandal resigns

Oct. 11, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

CHARLESTON — A prosecutor charged in a widespread federal investigation in a southern West Virginia county says he made a mistake in judgment and will accept the consequences.

Mingo County prosecutor Michael Sparks submitted his resignation letter Wednesday, the same day that he was charged in a federal information with conspiracy, media outlets reported. His resignation was to be effective at 11:59 p.m. Thursday.

Sparks' lawyer, Kent Varney, told media outlets that the prosecutor also will surrender his law license.

"Michael is a very good person. He has made mistakes, and given those mistakes that he's made, there are consequences to those actions," Varney said.

"Michael is deeply regretful and remorseful for what he's done. He's accepted any possible penalties and ... hopefully he'll be able to move past this and go further with his life."

Sparks is accused in a scheme to protect Sheriff Eugene Crum from revelations he'd bought drugs from a campaign sign-maker. Prosecutors allege Sparks, former county Commissioner David Baisden and former Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury offered a lighter sentence if sign-maker George White fired his lawyer and hired one they preferred.

Crum was killed in April in an unrelated shooting. White is serving one to 15 years under a plea agreement.

The federal information said Sparks' cooperation "was necessary to the scheme's success."

"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 wrote in his resignation letter, which was released to media outlets.

Sparks also said that his assistance in the federal investigation "was instrumental in bringing Michael Thornsbury to justice."

Thornsbury pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge last week and stepped down from his position as the county's only judge. He could get up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 at his sentencing in January.

In exchange for his guilty plea, prosecutors said they would dismiss charges against Thornsbury in a separate case in which the judge repeatedly tried to frame his former secretary's husband for false crimes to eliminate him as a romantic rival.

Baisden pleaded guilty last week to extortion for trying to buy tires for his personal vehicle at a government discount, then terminating the county's contract with Appalachian Tire when it refused to cooperate.

Baisden resigned as county commissioner on Monday and apologized for putting the county in a bad light. He faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine when he's sentenced in January.

The Mingo County Commission will appoint a temporary replacement for Sparks, Commissioner Greg "Hootie" Smith said. It also is accepting applications to fill Baisen's seat on the commission.

Media outlets report that the Supreme Court is researching who will appoint a permanent replacement for Mingo County Magistrate Dallas Toler, who resigned Wednesday prior to being charged in a separate federal case with illegally registering a felon to vote in the 2012 primary election.

Normally, the appointment would be made by the circuit judge. But it's not clear whether Senior Status Cabell County Circuit John Cummings, who is handling Thornsbury's caseload, can make the appointment, media outlets reported.

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