Former Mingo County Prosecutor pleads guilty to federal charge - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Former Mingo Co. Prosecutor pleads guilty to federal charge

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Former Mingo County prosecutor Michael Sparks is expected to plead guilty to a federal conspiracy charge Former Mingo County prosecutor Michael Sparks is expected to plead guilty to a federal conspiracy charge
CHARLESTON, WV -

Former Mingo County Prosecutor Michael Sparks, 44, pleaded guilty to a federal misdemeanor charge Monday.

Sparks is accused of depriving a man of his right to counsel, according to information filed Oct. 9 in the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of West Virginia.

Sparks, typically a vocal figure in Mingo County politics, repeatedly told reporters he would share his side of the story once the air clears in an ongoing federal probe surrounding several elected officials.

The ex-prosecutor refrained from answering questions Monday afternoon after his hearing. Whether he ever recants that story remains to be seen.

"Michael is a good father," said Kent Varney, the Pikeville-based attorney representing Sparks. "He was a good prosecutor. His mistake was he allowed political manipulation of his office."

Several relatives and Sparks' wife, Jennifer, attended the hearing in federal court. One friend said Sparks became involved with the wrong crowd.

"That's totally out of character for Michael," said Mike Curry, of Williamson. "I think, it's just he got caught up in being around some people that were really pressuring him."

Curry said moving forward, Sparks might be interesting in teaching.

"He's going to seek employment wherever he can take care of his family first," Curry said. "He's always been a community person."

A process server presented Sparks with documents for an unrelated case before entering the courtroom. The subpoena pertains to a civil suit filed on behalf of private investigator Don Stevens.

Stevens previously told 13 News officials banished him from Mingo County several years ago based on an investigation he was conducting at the time.

Sparks resigned from office Oct. 9, the same day prosecutors filed the information. The charge stems from an incident that happened in early 2013.

During the hearing, Varney mentioned Sparks had found employment in Pike County, Ky. For that reason, U.S. Judge Johnston restricted Sparks' travel to the southern district of West Virginia and the eastern district of Kentucky. Williamson, where Sparks resides, sits on the border of West Virginia and Kentucky.

Prosecutors said Sparks worked with other Mingo County officials to deprive a local drug dealer of his constitutional rights. They said he did so to protect former Sheriff Eugene Crum, who prosecutors believed bought drugs and committed violations of election law.

Court documents filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Ruby indicate a local businessman, George White, printed campaign signs for several politicians in the 2012 Mingo County election.

George White, 65, owner of White's Signs, printed signs for then-magistrate Crum, who was running for sheriff. The business is located in Delbarton.

White attempted to collect a $3,000 debt from Crum, who continually denied White payment, prosecutors said.

Crum won the sheriff's race in 2012. During his first month in office, documents further assert, Crum arranged for White to be arrested. Crum did this because he obtained prescription pills from White for personal use, according to federal prosecutors.

Investigators said White dealt illegal prescription pills in Mingo County.

White eventually hired a lawyer who was in contact with the FBI with the intention of pursuing Crum. White informed the FBI that before his arrest, he unlawfully provided Crum with prescription narcotic pills on several occasions. White also told the FBI about election law violations Crum committed, according to the information.

Prosecutors said Crum discovered White's relationship with the attorney. It prompted Crum, former Mingo Co. Commissioner Baisden, former Circuit Court Judge Thornsbury and Sparks to conspire against White through his brother, Glenn.

The group reportedly told Glenn White that if George hired another attorney - one they provided him - they would guarantee White a good plea deal.

That lawyer was Ron Rumora, a former prosecuting attorney in Mingo County. An complaint remains open with Rumora, according to officials with the Office of Disciplinary Council.

Federal prosecutors assert these officials, including Sparks, offered to stop White and his attorney from giving more information to the FBI.

The ODC put Sparks under investigation after the prosecutor was named in an unrelated indictment in August. The ODC accused Sparks of failing to report wrongdoing and misconduct by the former Judge Thornsbury. The board submitted a petition to suspend Sparks' law license.

In the indictment filed Aug. 15, federal prosecutors accused Thornsbury of framing his romantic rival's husband in several schemes.

In a letter previously sent to the Office of Disciplinary Council, Sparks categorically denied any knowledge whatsoever of any conspiracy to deprive George White of his right to counsel.

Baisden resigned from his position and pleaded guilty to a federal extortion charge Oct. 1.

(Mingo Co. Commissioner pleads guilty to attempted extortion)

Thornsbury also resigned from the bench and pleaded guilt to a federal conspiracy charge Oct 2.

(Former Mingo Co. judge pleads guilty to conspiracy charge)

In a previous statement to 13 News, Sparks said, "Regrettably, I made a mistake in judgment and now accept the consequences," Sparks wrote. "My attempt to prevent potential injury to the reputation and drug enforcement efforts of the late Sheriff Eugene Crum was unjustifiable."

The Mingo County Commission recently appointed Teresa Maynard to Sparks' post. Maynard, who specializes in juvenile cases, previously served as the county's only full-time assistant prosecutor.

(Mingo County Commission appoints new prosecutor and commissioner)

Sparks could face up to one year in prison and $100,000 in fines. His sentencing is scheduled for February 24 at 2:00 p.m.