Updated at: 10/09/2013 4:05 PM
By JOHN RABY
(AP) CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Federal prosecutors charged two more officials in a West Virginia county on Wednesday in a widespread investigation that already has brought convictions against a judge and county commissioner.
Mingo County Prosecutor Michael Sparks was charged with conspiracy Wednesday in a scheme to protect the reputation of the county sheriff who was slain in an unrelated shooting. In a separate case, Magistrate Dallas Toler was charged with illegally registering a felon to vote in the 2012 primary election. Toler resigned earlier Wednesday.
Both were charged in a document called an information, signaling that they are cooperating with prosecutors. The latest charges don’t signal an end to the investigation, however.
"This marks two more significant developments in our investigation into corruption in Mingo County," U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said Wednesday evening. "We’ll continue to follow the evidence where ever it may lead."
Telephone messages left at Sparks’ office and with his attorney were not immediately returned. Toler didn’t immediately return a message left at his home.
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.
The federal information said Sparks’ cooperation "was necessary to the scheme’s success."
White is serving one to 15 years under a plea agreement.
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 charge against Toler alleges the former magistrate knew that in April 2012 a person known to the U.S. attorney’s office was on probation for a felony at the time the voter registration application was submitted.
Toler replaced Crum as magistrate in January 2012 after Crum resigned to focus on his election campaign for sheriff. Three months after he took office as sheriff, Crum was fatally shot in April as he ate lunch in his car parked in downtown Williamson.
Sparks faces an Oct. 16 hearing before the state Supreme Court on a motion by the state Office of Disciplinary Counsel to suspend his law license. The group that investigates alleged misconduct by lawyers claims Sparks lied to the high court last month when he said he didn’t know about corruption by Thornsbury.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)