Don Stevens Sues, he Wins

Posted: August 28, 2016 in Uncategorized

Stevens claims Mingo County elected officials trumped up charges against him when they thought he was investigating former circuit judge Michael Thornsbury, who is now serving time in a federal prison in Florida.

In the settlement, the state Board of Risk and Insurance Management will pay the private investigator and his attorneys the money, according to the agreement that was reached.

The trial in Stevens’ lawsuit had been set to begin next month.

Stevens filed the lawsuit in Kanawha Circuit Court in 2013 against Thornsbury and the state Supreme Court. He also filed the suit against the former county prosecuting attorney Michael Sparks, former Williamson Police Chief Dave Rockel and the city of Williamson.

The lawsuit also named the Mingo County Commission. This was because of the alleged activities of three county employees; Sparks, the late Sheriff Eugene Crum and the late Bill Davis. At that time, Crum was a special investigator for Mingo County. Davis was the county’s 911 Director and Floodplain Coordinator.

“It was never about the money,” Stevens told the Williamson Daily News on Friday. “I wanted to prove my innocence. I wanted the people of Mingo County to know I was innocent.”

“From the very beginning I knew I was innocent,” Stevens added. “Once they charged me and arrested me – and I told them I was innocent – they wouldn’t listen to me. It came down to that I signed an agreement under duress. I set out to prove I was innocent. It finally came out with this lawsuit.”

Stevens hopes the arrest will be wiped from his record and he is going to proceed with that procedure.

The settlement agreement reads, “Defendants John Doe No. 1 and John Doe No. 2, by and through their liability insurance carrier, shall pay to the plaintiffs and their attorney the sum of $100,00 within 20 days of the agreement.”

It also states, “The remaining defendants shall be dismissed by separate order of the Court without monetary contributions to the settlement reached herein.”

Steven’s said that Mingo County officials had him arrested and gave him the choice of going to jail or signing an agreement saying he would move his investigation business out of Mingo County. Allegedly, Thornsbury believed Stevens was investigating him. This investigation allegedly involved Crum and Rockel.

Stevens was accused of illegal wiretapping.

The agreement reached at that time by Stevens and the prosecutor’s office stated that the charges would be dropped if he shut down his private investigators office in Williamson. Stevens said he agreed to the deal because he did not think he could get a fair trial in Mingo County.

Stevens said that during this time he was assaulted by two men in his home and they advised him to get out of Mingo County. The settlement did not require any of the defendants to admit to the allegations.

Besides Thornsbury spending time in jail, Sparks also spent time in a federal prison over accusations involving another man, George White of Varney, W.Va.

Thornsbury pleaded guilty to conspiring to deprive White of his constitutional rights, a felony, while Sparks pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge of actually violating White’s rights. Sparks spent a year in jail while Thornsbury is still serving a 50-month prison sentence.

Crum was shot to death in April 2013 in a parking lot beside the Harvey Street underpass in downtown Williamson. Rockel had resigned his position as Police Chief for the Williamson Police Department and joined the Sheriff’s Department under Crum. After Crum’s death, Rockel’s position was terminated by current Sheriff James Smith.


As federal investigators delve farther down the rabbit hole in Mingo County, the discoveries only get curiouser and curiouser.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office had suspended Mingo County Judge Michael Thornsbury sufficiently nailed on charges that he abused his position multiple times to entrap the husband of his ex-mistress, that Thornsbury decided to cooperate and pleaded guilty to less dubious charges.

Now Thornsbury is admitting to participating in a scheme designed to hold together the interconnected web of political corruption that is Mingo County.

Here’s what is included in the new federal charge against Thornsbury.  Follow along as best you can.

Sheriff Eugene Crum, who was honored by the community (and praised by me) for his service following his murder earlier this year, was actually a substance abuser who was supplied drugs by George White of Delbarton.

White is a sign maker, and Crum owed White $3,000 for political signs made during the last election.  Rather than pay the bill, Crum set up White by getting an informant to buy three oxycodone pills from him.

Crum and Carl David Rockel, who was then the police chief of Williamson and a close associate of Crum’s, brought drug charges against White.

White hired Butch West as his attorney and began cooperating with federal investigators, explaining to them how Crum was really one of White’s drug customers. Crum got wind of the cooperation and enlisted help from some of his cronies.

The feds say Crum, Mingo County Prosecutor Michael Sparks, Mingo County Commissioner David Baisden and others hatched a scheme; White would hire a different attorney who would not cooperate with the federal investigation and, in return, Judge Thornsbury would give White a light sentence on the drug charge.

Crum then ordered one of his deputies to get a statement from White saying he never sold drugs to Crum.

I know, it sounds absurd, but that’s the way the show has been run in Mingo County; a cabal of miscreants making it up as they go along, abusing their positions, running roughshod over the law, threatening and intimidating people.

As one person familiar with the investigation told me, “The norms among the political class are distorted” in Mingo County.

The pending guilty pleas by Thornsbury and Baisden do not end the investigation. They’re cooperating with the feds, and if anybody knows the whereabouts of the skeletons, it’s Thornsbury.

Sparks has been cooperating with investigators, too.  He has not been charged, but the information returned against Thornsbury suggests Sparks has problems because he arranged for a more favorable sentence for White in return for White replacing his attorney.

Meanwhile, congratulations to U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin and his office.  Frontline investigators Steve Ruby, who serves as counsel to the U.S. Attorney, and FBI Special Agents Jim Lafferty and Joe Ciccarelli have been relentless in their drive to clean up Mingo County.

Bringing Thornsbury and Baisden to justice is critically important, not only in Mingo, but also in our state, which has had more than its share of political transgressors.

But the work isn’t finished.  The rabbit hole descends farther.  Keep going.

Judge Michael Thornsbury

FILE -In this July 2004 file photo, Mingo County Circuit Court Judge Michael Thornsbury stands in a stairwell of the Mingo County Courthouse, in Williamson, W.Va. Federal prosecutors on Thursday, Aug 15, 2013, charged Judge Thornsbury with abusing his power and commandeering a southern West Virginia grand jury in a failed attempt to frame a romantic rival for crimes he didn’t commit. (AP Photo/Chris Dorst)

“Our investigation of public corruption in Mingo County at this point is ongoing. At this point, it would be premature to indicate how many targets or how many subjects of the investigation might exist, but we can certainly say that the investigation is very much continuing,” said Steven Ruby, an assistant U.S. Attorney who is working on Thornsbury’s case.

Corruption is something of a tradition in Mingo, a coal mining county that is home to less than 30,000 people and located along West Virginia’s border with Kentucky. In the late 1980s, more than 50 Mingo residents who held government jobs were arrested for various illegal activities, including bribery, arson, and drug dealing. Because of this unique history, the locals have a special term for the corrupt political machinery there. It’s a name investigators are using once again to describe Thornsbury and his associates — the “courthouse gang.”

Thornsbury’s part in the alleged conspiracy is just the latest in a long list of disturbing recent revelations involving officials in Mingo. The alleged conspiracy also involves another major figure in Mingo, the late Eugene Crum, who was the county sheriff up until he was shot and killed on April 3 as he ate lunch in his parked car.

Family members of the suspect in Crum’s shooting, Tennis Maynard, have claimed Crum raped Maynard when he was a teen, which motivated the shooting. Court filings in Maynard’s case show his attorneys also plan to discuss an allegation that Crum raped a 19-year-old woman in 2002 when he was serving as police chief in a local town. That alleged rape occurred in the back of a police cruiser while two officers sat in the front seat and blared a radio to drown out the noise.

Crum, who federal prosecutors have described as having had a “close personal and political relationship with Judge Thornsbury,” was the beneficiary of the alleged conspiracy. The plot, prosecutors said, was aimed at stopping a businessman named George White from telling FBI agents about Crum’s alleged drug use and election law violations during his campaign for sheriff.

White had a business making signs and often worked with local political candidates. In 2012, when Crum was a magistrate, he enlisted White’s services in his bid to be elected sheriff. Prosecutors alleged that Crum still owed White “approximately $3,000” in January of this year and that White “insisted that it be repaid.” After this, prosecutors said, Crum “arranged for a confidential police informant to attempt to purchase three oxycodone tablets” from White. Following the painkiller sale, White was arrested.

According to White’s former attorney, Charles West, his client was “quite upset” because he felt the arrest was motivated by Crum’s debt to him. White, who had been a friend of Crum’s, also alleged that the sheriff used to purchase pain pills from him. West told TPM on Tuesday that White also said Crum used to sell him moonshine.

“He owed him some money for signs, and when he came and busted George, it really got on George’s nerves because he had provided — according to George — he had provided oxycodone, I think, to him and he had received from him illegal whiskey, moonshine,” said West. “So, he was quite upset that Eugene would do him that way.”

West said FBI agents became aware of White’s allegations against Crum and set up a meeting with him in late February. At that meeting, which West attended, White detailed his claims about Crum’s oxycodone habit and moonshine sales.

Federal prosecutors said Crum and his allies in local government became aware that White was speaking to FBI agents about Crum. The group “devised a scheme to prevent” him “from further communicating to the FBI and others incriminating information regarding Sheriff Crum,” the filing said. This alleged scheme, which prosecutors said was cooked up by Crum, Thornsbury, a local prosecutor, and a county commissioner, involved telling White that he could receive a favorable deal on the oxycodone charge if he fired West, switched to an attorney of their choosing, and stopped communicating with the FBI.

West said the county commissioner relayed this message to White’s brother, Glenn, ahead of a pretrial hearing in March.

“The brother went on down to the county commissioner’s office. … In a few minutes, Glenn, the brother, came back and said to Mr. White that they were offering him a real good deal,” West recounted. “He listened to them and I would have, too, probably if I had been in his shoes.”

West said being “fired as a condition of a plea being taken” was like being “slapped across the face.”

“The reason that they did this was because they knew that I was going to use that information,” West said, referring to White’s accusations against Crum. “I would have made sure every juror that was sitting there understood completely what I was talking about, and they knew that.”

White is currently in jail. Michael Sparks, the county prosecutor who was allegedly involved in the conspiracy has denied being part of any scheme. (He has also recused himself from the case involving the sheriff’s killing.) Sparks did not respond to a request for comment from TPM.

As part of Thornsbury’s plea deal, prosecutors will dismiss another federal case against him in which he was accused of using his position as a judge to make life hell for his ex-lover’s husband. According to the indictment in that case, which was filed last month, the action began after Thornsbury’s secretary ended their romantic relationship. One of Thornsbury’s schemes allegedly included a plan “to plant illegal drugs” in the pickup truck that belonged to the secretary’s husband. Another involved attempting to have the man “arrested for thefts he did not commit.” And yet another involved trying “to commandeer a state grand jury” in order to “oppress” the man and his family. The alleged conspiracy against Thornsbury’s romantic rival also involved multiple other local officials, including Crum, prosecutors said.

West, who has practiced law in Mingo for more than two decades, said Thornsbury, Crum, and their associates spent nearly every day plotting together.

“They did some kind of strategizing every day,” explained West. “It wasn’t unusual to see them all at a local restaurant around the judge’s table, the judge had his own table in this restaurant, and they’d be there with their friends and they’d be talking and they’d be strategizing.”

West suggested this activity was part of a widespread culture of corruption in Mingo.

“It’s a county with loads and loads of good people, and I do not know why the politicians can’t do things legally or straight,” he said.

For his part, West, who is licensed to practice law in both West Virginia and Kentucky, said he has found a solution to coping with Mingo’s corruption — spending more time across the border.

“I’ve been practicing for 24 years, so this was my home court for many, many years,” said West of the Mingo County Court, where Thornsbury once presided. “Now, I’m beginning to spend more and more time in Kentucky.”

For generations, the laws of the land got no respect in Mingo County, W.Va. In the 1880s, this rugged corner of Appalachian coal country, framed by mountains and steeped in blood feuds, was riven by the infamous rivalry between the Hatfields and the McCoys. Through the early 1900s, school board elections were settled with bullets and confrontations between mine workers and mine owners often turned violent—which earned the county the nickname Bloody Mingo.

Coal is still king in southern West Virginia, but unemployment is its too-constant consort. Mingo County is so economically blighted, says a local mayor, “that this is where President Kennedy invented poverty.” And though the mine owners no longer pay wages in scrip for the company store, much of Mingo continues to operate on the near-feudal model of a company town, where a few men and women control every aspect of local life.

When the coal industry fell on hard times in Mingo County in the mid-’70s, the mantle of power was picked up by members of the Preece clan. Until recently, Wilburn T. “Wig” Preece and his wife, Mary Virginia, known as Cooney, lived in Kermit, a small town near the Kentucky border. Married in 1946, they are 62 years old and have raised 13 children, most of whom have acquired such nicknames as Bull, Powder, Ball, Slick and Red Ed. Assisted by this extended family, Wig and Cooney ran Mingo County as their personal fiefdom for more than two decades until last year, when eight Preeces and assorted in-laws and confederates went to jail on charges including drug dealing, jury tampering and obstruction of justice. The massive investigation that put them there is still unfolding, and it has revealed a web of corruption so pervasive that Assistant U.S. Attorney for the southern district of West Virginia Joseph F. Savage Jr. says, “I never saw any place that was as bad as this.”

Linda Gail Preece Sartin, 35, is the oldest unindicted Preece. She lives with her husband, Riley, and their three kids in a modern brick home full of brass chandeliers and thick wall-to-wall carpeting. Pictures of Wig and Cooney as young adults hang on the wall. Linda, a pretty blond who runs a beauty parlor and exercise salon across the road from her house, is a Christian who always disapproved of her family’s activities. Wig and Cooney and the others used to chide her for her religion. Now they depend on her—Linda has taken in two of her sister Brenda’s children while Brenda and her common-law husband, Carey Lee Hatfield, serve prison terms.

“My parents were not kingpins,” says Linda, despite evidence to the contrary. “They were small-town drug dealers. Mom never dealt cocaine, for instance. She knew it was bad for you. If honest people had been running the county, we wouldn’t have to have done [what we did].” In fact, Wig Preece was one of the county’s chief powerbrokers—though people say it was Cooney who ruled the family. (Once, long ago, when she suspected Wig of cheating on her, Cooney demonstrated that she was not to be trifled with by shooting her husband in the hand.) As a tavern owner in the early ’70s, Wig developed a reputation for getting out the vote with five dollars here or a pint of rotgut there. Many local officeholders were beholden to Preece—among them Larry Hamrick, who, as former president of the school board and executive director of the Economic Opportunity Commission, controlled 2,400 jobs in a county that has fewer than 9,000 available for a population of 38,000. “The perception,” says one local authority, “was that if you didn’t cooperate with Wig, you’d get no social security, no job, no nothing.”

Something of a Renaissance man, Wig also served as chief of the volunteer fire department during a period when Kermit was a hotbed of arson. In a single year, this small town of 705 reported 100 business and residential fires, generating millions of dollars in insurance claims. Wig knew which fires to put out and which to let blaze. “He was an excellent fire chief,” says a neighbor, “as long as the house didn’t need to burn.”

But the Preeces didn’t truly dominate the local economy until the late ’70s, when the arrest of Tomahawk Preece (so named after being born in the backseat of a taxi in Tomahawk, Ky.)for selling marijuana opened his parents’ eyes to the profitability of drugs. Within a few years, Wig and Cooney were running the biggest drug operation in southern West Virginia. Some of the drugs were sold from the family’s parlor, but the major portion of the business was run from a rented trailer in the center of town. When their supply of marijuana, PCP and pills was depleted, the Preeces sometimes put a sign on the trailer, which was near both the police station and city hall: “Out of drugs, back in 15 minutes.” Chief of Police Dave Ramey was married to Wig and Cooney’s daughter Debbie and didn’t care to make trouble for his in-laws. And if anyone in the Preeces’ extended family were to be collared by a state policeman—as they were 54 times over a 10-year period, for traffic violations, misdemeanors and felonies—the Preeces knew other ways to influence the justice system. When Brenda went to trial on a charge of selling PCP to an undercover police officer, she and her parents arranged for the jury foreman’s daughter to get a teaching job. (Brenda was eventually acquitted, and the foreman was later convicted of conspiracy.)

State officials estimate that between 1984 and ’86 the Preeces’ drug operation was bringing in about $1 million a year; suddenly Kermit was saturated with Cadillacs and Corvettes, Nautilus equipment, speedboats and diamond rings. Debbie and Dave Ramey were living so well on Dave’s $800-a-month police salary that locals began calling them J.R. and Sue Ellen.

Everyone knew where the money was coming from. Wally Warden, editor of the county’s only paper, the Williamson Daily News, says that in a two-and-a-half-year period he printed about 350 articles exposing the Preece clan. “Nobody cared—including the Preeces,” he says. “There was never any hope that anything would ever change. The Preeces ran an arson ring, for God’s sake. Who would be fool enough to speak up?”

When Kenny Burner, a West Virginia state policeman, was transferred to Mingo County in 1980, he says, “I felt like I’d died and gone to hell.” Several times state troopers arrested various Preeces only to see them walk free. The only real threat to the family’s power came from the Preeces’ own missteps. Cooney had a habit of storing her marijuana in trash bags outside, and sometimes she was forgetful. Once, when the garbagemen hauled it off, one of the Preeces called Chief Ramey, who supplied a police backup when Brenda and another member of the family ran down the truck and forced the haulers to go back to Ramey’s house, pick through the garbage and give back the missing pot. Another time, when her aunt appeared to be muscling in on her customers, Brenda turned the older woman in to Sergeant Burner, who arrested the aunt for a bathtub full of marijuana, among other drugs. That case is still pending. “We just had to keep doing our job and wait until something broke,” Burner says of his relationship with the Preeces. “We were frustrated, but we kept trying.”

Meanwhile, state officials were being inundated with complaints about the Preece clan. Finally, in 1984, a huge undercover effort involving both state and federal agencies was launched. Veteran IRS criminal investigator John Weaver was brought in to examine financial records, and FBI agent Calvin Knott organized undercover surveillance of the Preeces’ drug trailer. West Virginia state trooper Marty Allen went undercover to buy drugs from the family. Sobered by the experience, and fearing reprisals, he sent his wife out of the area. “The family is low-life scum,” says Allen, “and Cooney is an evil woman.”

Charleston-based U.S. Attorney Mike Carey put Joe Savage, 32, in charge of the task force. Savage, a Harvard-educated Massachusetts native, had come to West Virginia so that his wife could fulfill the terms of her medical-school scholarship by serving in a doctor-deficient area. He knew little about Mingo County before arriving there in 1985. What he learned made him feel as if he had stepped through the looking glass. “Things happened backwards,” says Savage. “The police chief and sheriff weren’t doing the arresting, they were selling the drugs. The school board president wasn’t teaching children ethics, he was bribing the jurors.”

For 18 months Savage’s task force gathered evidence. The Preece clan often dealt in merchandise, not cash, so their customers worked the area’s shopping malls, stealing microwaves, stereos and televisions, which they traded for drugs. FBI agents were provided with various appliances so they could make the tape-recorded deals they needed for evidence. At one point, Wig Preece, increasingly greedy, told the agents he wanted a new boat for the fire department. He even specified the model and told them how to steal it.

Finally, on May 30, 1986, the task force was ready to move. At 1 p.m., a squadron of unmarked cars, backed up by a helicopter, sped single file into Kermit, then fanned out to arrest seven Preeces and 13 other individuals. “We had enough troops to wipe out the Sandinistas,” says John Weaver.

The operation went smoothly. At Wig and Cooney’s place, the agents found $54,010 in cash under a bed. (Another $40,000 had been set aside to buy a Mercedes that day for Stella Preece’s high school graduation. But when the Preeces arrived at the dealership, Stella didn’t like the color, so the family returned home with the cash.)

All 20 of the suspects rounded up in this first sweep eventually pleaded guilty, though police chief Ramey and his wife, Debbie, later changed their minds and stood trial. (They were convicted of drug conspiracy, tax evasion and 28 other felony counts. Dave was sentenced to 15 years prison; Debbie to 10.) Moreover, in 1987 the Preeces led the task force to other county officials who had condoned their activities and profited from them. Larry Hamrick was convicted of political corruption and influence peddling and sentenced to 12 years. One of Hamrick’s previous claims to fame was that he had once strangled a pit bull with his bare hands. (He didn’t mean to kill the dog, he later explained, but once your hands are around a pit bull’s neck, you don’t let go.) Now he was accused of putting those same hands around the neck of one of his employees while warning her not to testify against him.

So far, 69 people have been indicted—and 69 convicted—including police, politicians, school board members, bus drivers and employees of Mingo County’s Head Start program and Office of Elderly Affairs. Investigators are now looking into charges of vote fraud and accusations of huge illegal cash contributions in both the 1982 and 1984 county elections. Johnie Owens, a power in the local Democratic organization, has already been convicted of tax evasion and selling the county sheriff’s job to Eddie Hilbert for about $100,000. Owens is serving 14 years; Hilbert is doing seven years for misusing the sheriff’s office. “This case is the best thing that could happen to West Virginia,” says Savage. “We reclaimed part of America. The area will never be as bad again.”

Others aren’t as sure. Certainly the investigation has restored some semblance of democracy to Mingo County. Twenty-six-year-old Tim Crum, elected mayor of Kermit last May in what most observers agree was the first clean election in Mingo’s history, says, “There’s no way I could have won my office a few years ago.”

But some insiders fear that corruption has become such a habit in Mingo County that the cleanup may just substitute one set of power brokers for another. “Look at Kermit now,” says a local law enforcement official. “The Republicans are in for the first time. And they’re just trying to do what the Democrats did for so long. Who can blame them?”

Linda Preece couldn’t agree more. Her embittered mother—who phones daily from prison, where she is serving a 16-year term—insists that “my husband and I were used by the politicians.” After all, Cooney notes, she and Wig had been paying off the proper authorities since 1957. Her father, Linda says, is a broken man who weeps at the end of each of her prison visits. Linda herself begins to cry after she finishes another talk with her mother. Sitting among her high-tech toning machines—”they tone your body without your having to exercise,” she explains—the Preeces’ matriarch pro tem maintains that her parents were just ordinary working folk looking for a way to make ends meet. “If people knew what Mingo County was truly like, they’d understand,” she says, pulling herself together with a sigh. “If they ever did a movie of all this, it would just have to be a comedy.”


There is not much that can be salvaged from the still-smoldering home on Meathouse Fork Road in Canada, KY.
Neighbors say the fire that started at around sun-rise raises questions.
“I know a lot of people didn’t like the man very well,” says Corey Mateny, who is connected to the Thornsbury only through marriage. “It don’t surprise me. I mean, I’ve seen a lot of corruption around here. A lot of things are messed up, and action needs to be taken.”
Action is being taken regarding alleged crimes from the past.
Thornsbury is accused of trying to frame his ex-lover’s husband in several schemes.
Mateny joins other neighbors in wondering if Thornsbury is trying to hide anything else about an investigation that names several officials.
A man and woman on scene this afternoon, say they are relatives of Judge Thornsbury’s, but have no comment.
Outside the local grocery store, we meet Joe Dotson, who says Thornsbury represented him years ago when Thornsbury was still an attorney.
Dotson, hesitant to jump to conclusions, says he’s going to wait and see, and not speculate as to whether this fire was an accident, revenge, or a favor.
“Well, it’ll all come out in the wash. Whatever went on, it’ll all come out in the wash,” says Dotson. “You can’t really say who’s right, who’s wrong, or what’s going on, or this that or the other.”
An investigation by Kentucky State Police and federal investigators is ongoing.


CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Suspended Mingo County Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury has agreed to plead guilty to conspiring with other Mingo County officials to keep a man from reporting late Sheriff Eugene Crum’s alleged past drug purchases to the FBI. A guilty plea hearing was requested by federal prosecutors Thursday afternoon.

In a federal information case filed earlier Thursday, Thornsbury is accused of working with Mingo County Prosecuting Attorney Michael Sparks, Mingo County Commissioner David Baisden, Crum and others to force the man, identified as G.W. in the information, to fire his attorney and end his cooperation with federal investigators.

G.W. is George White who was operating a sign business in Delbarton.

(Read the federal case against Judge Thornsbury here.)

Federal documents revealed Crum owed White $3,000 for election signs and other materials he bought on credit before being elected in 2012.  In January of this year, after Crum became sheriff, he allegedly sent a confidential police informant to White to buy oxycodone and later got a search warrant for his business.

A Mingo County grand jury indicted White on the resulting drug charge at the end of January.

After his arrest, White hired Charles “Butch” West, identified as C.W. in the information, to represent him. Prosecutors said West and White first met with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in February to report that “on multiple occasions prior to his arrest, he (White) unlawfully provided Crum with prescription narcotic pills at Crum’s request.”

Crum’s alleged oxycodone buys happened while he was a Mingo County magistrate, prior to being elected sheriff.

Thornsbury’s role in the alleged conspiracy started in March when he allegedly promised a lighter sentence for the drug charge if White fired West as counsel. White agreed to hire an attorney Thornsbury and the others approved, thus ending cooperation with the FBI.

According to the federal case, “The sign-maker went in front of the judge and there was an agreement that the law would go easier on him as result of his agreement to cooperate in this fashion,” said Booth Goodwin, U.S. Attorney for West Virginia’s Southern District.

Crum was shot and killed while eating lunch near the Mingo County Courthouse on April 3. Tennis Maynard of Delbarton is charged with Crum’s murder. On Wednesday, Sparks recused himself from the Maynard case citing “an emerging conflict of interest.”

Thornsbury was previously charged with violating the Constitutional rights of the husband of his ex-mistress over a span of years. He allegedly abused his judicial power to target the man. Federal officials said his guilty plea will be for the information issued Thursday.

The next step for Thornsbury, who is the only elected official charged in the information, will be a plea hearing.

“Unless and until a federal judge passes on the plea, it’s not a done deal,” said Goodwin on Thursday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”

A plea hearing is already in the process of being scheduled for Baisden, charged separately with extortion for allegedly ending Mingo County’s business with Appalachian Tire when his request for the county price for tires for his personal vehicle was denied.

Kyle Lovern with the Williamson Daily News said the ongoing federal investigation could mark a change in Mingo County.  “We’re hoping that this will clean out the courthouse, get rid of the political slates and we can get some good, honest politicians in some of these positions and do some good for Mingo County,” he said.