Williamson residents ask ‘Why Mingo' after indictments - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Williamson residents ask ‘Why Mingo' after indictments

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On Aug. 15, Mingo County Commissioner David Baisden and Circuit Court Judge Michael Thornsbury were arrested after federal indictments against them were unsealed.

Rumors had gone around for months that something was coming.

On the day of the arrests, many residents gathered outside the Mingo County Courthouse. Some, like Williamson residents Carl Beckett and Maxine Thacker, said they were not surprised. 

"When I heard about it, I said, ‘It's about time,'" Beckett said. "We deserve the right people." 

Thacker had a similar reaction, echoing Beckett's "about time" comment. 

"This town is corrupt — very, very corrupt," Thacker said. "We ain't done fair here in Williamson." 

Thacker added she had nothing against Thornsbury, calling him a fair judge. However, she expressed concern about her county's government, saying she didn't know why allegations of corruption keep surfacing from her hometown. 

Baisden's charges

Baisden was charged with extortion under color of official right, specifically, attempting to obstruct, delay and affecting commerce and the movement of an article and commodity in commerce.

According to the indictment, Baisden was the purchasing agent for the Mingo County Commission. He had the authority to purchase goods and services on behalf of the commission and to choose the suppliers of those goods and services.

Jerry Colegrove was a commission employee who managed and supervised a garage operated by the commission for the purpose of maintaining commission-owned vehicles.

From 2007 through June 2009, the commission routinely purchased tires from an Appalachian Tire store in Williamson. Baisden completed purchase orders, and Colegrove took delivery of the tires.

Appalachian Tire sold tires to the commission at a discounted price. That price was for government vehicles only and was not available for private purchases for personal vehicles.

Federal prosecutors say around June 2009, Baisden directed Colegrove to purchase a set of tires for a vehicle belonging to Baisden and his wife. The tires were to be purchased from Appalachian Tire at the government price.

When Appalachian Tire learned the tires were to be used on Baisden's personal vehicle, it refused to sell them at the discounted price. Colegrove told Appalachian Tire that it risked losing the county's business, but the store refused to sell them at the discounted price, according to the indictment.

On June 12, 2009, Baisden left a voicemail message with Appalachian Tire saying that if it did not sell him the tires at the discounted price, the store would lose the county's business, the indictment says. The store did not respond to the threat.

On June 15, Baisden again phoned the store to tell the manager that it had lost the commission's business. Baisden directed Colegrove to stop purchasing tires at the store, the indictment states. 

Baisden appeared with his attorney Jim Cagle before U.S. Magistrate Judge Dwane Tinsley Aug. 15.

At Baisden's initial appearance, Tinsley read a list of people Baisden is not to contact while out on bond, including fellow county commissioners Greg "Hootie" Smith and John Mark Hubbard. Cagle asked Tinsley to reconsider a lack of contact with the other two county commissioners during scheduled commission meetings.

"I don't know how he can conduct business as he was elected to do if he can't talk to them," Cagle said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby said the government did not have any objections to modifying those conditions, and Tinsley ruled Cagle could talk to his fellow county commissioners when participating in county business but cannot talk about the case.

At an Aug. 21 Mingo County Commission meeting, Baisden stepped down as purchasing director but not commissioner.

Thornsbury's charges

The indictment against Thornsbury, meanwhile, alleges the former circuit judge had an extramarital relationship with his secretary and conspired to plant illegal drugs on her husband's pickup, have him arrested for thefts he did not commit, commandeer a state grand jury to oppress the husband and his family.

After an incident in which the husband was the victim of an assault, Thornsbury arranged for the husband, rather than the perpetrator, to receive "an exceptionally harsh sentence," according to the indictment.

West Virginia Supreme Court Chief Justice Brent Benjamin said there could be future implications involving other cases before that same grand jury. 

"Certainly, anyone who may feel that they didn't get justice may feel like they want to pursue something," Benjamin said. "We certainly anticipate that." 

Neither the husband nor the secretary is identified by name in the indictment against Thornsbury. They are identified only as R.W. and K.W. However, the names of Kim and Robert Woodruff later were released. 

Michael O. Callaghan, a Charleston attorney who represented Robert Woodruff said he was floored by the allegations. Callaghan ended up getting both charges dismissed against his client. 

"I knew that the charges were bad, wrong, but I never knew what the driving force was behind the charges," Callaghan told The State Journal. "In my wildest imagination, I never would have dreamed that Judge Thornsbury was behind that. My wildest imagination could not have thought of that." 

Callaghan said he sent out letters Aug. 16 to the city of Gilbert, the Mingo County Commission, the West Virginia State Police and Thornsbury, informing of his intent to file a federal lawsuit. Callaghan said the suit should be filed no later than Sept. 16. 

Listed as helping Thornsbury in the alleged conspiracy but not indicted or charged with any offenses were Trooper Brandon Moore of the West Virginia State Police and Jarrod Fletcher, Mingo County's director of Homeland Security and a business partner of Thornsbury's.

In an Aug. 15 news conference, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said when asked about the other people mentioned in the indictments that only Thornsbury and Baisden would be charged for actions in those indictments. Goodwin also said there are no other pending charges at this time for Thornsbury and Baisden. 

The West Virginia State Police issued a statement saying the agency has launched its own parallel investigation into the trooper listed in Thornsbury's indictment. The trooper has been placed on paid administrative leave.

The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals voted Aug. 15 to suspend Thornsbury without pay and also to suspend his law license. The Judicial Investigation Commission recommended to the court that Thornsbury be suspended without pay and that his law license be suspended pending the resolution of the criminal charges against him. 

Before that vote, Benjamin, in anticipation of the recommendation from the Judicial investigation Commission on Thornsbury's future service in Mingo County, asked Cabell County Senior Status Judge John L. Cummings to serve in Mingo County. According to a news release from the West Virginia Supreme Court, Cummings will be prepared to serve starting at 9 a.m. Aug. 16.

"When my colleagues and I learned about this by receiving the indictments, I certainly think we had a response that this is a horrible thing if it's true. And of course, there is a presumption of innocence," Benjamin said. "It was imperative that we act and we act quickly and decisively. We convened an emergency meeting of the court to make certain that fist and foremost, there is no interruption of services down in Mingo County." 

"We also felt it was important to secure everything down there," Benjamin added. "Within minutes of receiving the grand jury indictment, we secured the area down there with a court marshal. The area is still secure to the extent that the U.S. Attorney's office needs it."

If Thornsbury is found not guilty or the charges are dropped against him, Benjamin explained, Thornsbury could then ask to be reinstated and could ask for back pay. 

Benjamin said there would be a separate inquiry, not just limited to the indictment. 

An unrelated case

In an unrelated case, new allegations surfaced from the man accused of shooting and killing Mingo County Sheriff Eugene Crum. 

Tennis Maynard, the suspect in the case, appeared in court Aug. 21 and his trial is set for Dec. 9. His father Melvin Maynard and his brother Leslie Maynard said Crum raped Tennis and that's what led to the shooting. 

"Eugene raped him," Melvin Maynard said. "Eugene molested him. That'd give me the damn right to kill him."

Leslie Maynard said Tennis tried to file charges but it was thrown out. 

Mingo County chief field deputy and interim sheriff Dave Rockel said he doesn't think there is any truth to this allegation. 

"I'm sure that it's been looked at very carefully," he said. 

"I don't believe there's any merit to that. That's me. I don't believe that there are. The evidence will stand at it's face value.

In the Aug. 21 commission meeting, Crum's wife Rosie stepped down as interim sheriff and Rockel will take her place until a new sheriff is announced. 

A jaded community

Williamson resident Patricia Maynard said certain elected officials are "good people" but a few "were crooked from the gate." 

"You know, what is in the dark will come to the light — it has been so far," she said. 

"You know this is the way I see it — I have been in trouble before and I just hope what applies to me will apply to them. you know, they keep it in the closet when I am out front," Maynard later added, admitting she has gone through the criminal justice system and was convicted of two felony offenses. 

Otis Gooslin, of neighboring Pike County, Ky., however, said he has known the county commissioner and judge for years.

"I think they're great men who do a great job for the county," Gooslin said, noting he doesn't think the allegations are true. "They help anyway they can. … As far as I know, they are straight-up guys. They treat people fair." 

Charles West, an attorney and former Williamson mayor, said he is excited about the indictments. 

"I think this needs to be followed through," he said. "People need closure on this. There's been so many rumors. I told someone that we've been hearing labor pains for years and now, it's time for the baby." 

"The people are tired of it," West later said. 

"They're tired of the reputation that Mingo County has. It seems to stay in the forefront with allegations of corruption."

Citing the fact that Mingo County is a one-county, one-judge circuit, West said the county could improve with the appointment of another judge. 

"A situation like that can cause problems because there is no checks and balances. It never has been fair," he said of the one-judge system. 

Second judge needed?

Reacting to the recent news, Mingo County members of the House of Delegates released plans of introducing a bill in the Legislature's next regular session to add another judge for Mingo County. 

"The need for more than one circuit judge in our county has long been discussed, but the events of the past week have further shed light on the issue," House Majority Leader Harry Keith White said in a news release. "We want to ensure that all citizens of Mingo County have access to an effective court system without delay."

Delegate Justin Marcum, D-Mingo, also is the Mingo County assistant prosecutor. Marcum pointed out two judges were appointed to temporarily handle Thornsbury's caseload. 

"Most circuits in West Virginia have at least two judges, and the addition of a judge in Mingo County has been advocated both within the local legal community and among legislators from this area," Marcum said. "We think this legislation would help ensure our judicial system operates effectively, and establish more accountability within the circuit."

Senators Art Kirkendoll and Ron Stollings have expressed support for the legislation, which will be introduced during the 2014 regular legislative session.

Justice Benjamin explained that in 2015, the Legislature will look at all of West Virginia's judicial circuits to assess needs. 

"Over the years, needs change, and it's important to note that it's not driven by population. It's where needs are for legal services. Whether Mingo County needs a second judge, that's up to the Legislature and whatever the numbers will show." 

"There is a philosophical question as to whether larger or smaller circuits are better," Benjamin added. "There's a philosophical question whether one-judge circuits are good or whether it should be multiple-judge circuits. Mingo County is a one-county, one-judge circuit and people can certainly draw conclusions from that. On the other hand, we have one-judge, one-county circuits where we have outstanding judges with great reputations. It's hard to say based on one case whether we need more than one judge in one county."