Former Mingo Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury 'corrupted the sys - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Former Mingo Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury 'corrupted the system,' federal judge says

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The shoe is on the other foot for Michael Thornsbury, accustomed to dishing out prison sentences to criminals appearing in his courtroom.

On Monday, June 9 the one-time circuit judge from Mingo County was sentenced to four years and two months in federal prison for conspiring with other elected officials to coerce a local businessman into firing his lawyer in order to protect one of their political cronies.

His sentence was reduced by 10 months because he cooperated with authorities, providing information to investigators that led to the arrests of former Mingo County commissioner David Baisden and former Mingo County prosecuting attorney Michael Sparks.

Thornsbury said the group hatched the scheme after learning that sign shop owner George White was going to testify that the late Eugene Crum, then sheriff of Mingo County, had illegally obtained prescription pain pills and accepted unlawful campaign contributions.

Crum had owed White several thousand dollars for election signs. Rather than pay, the sheriff allegedly arranged for a police informant to purchase several prescription pain pills from the sign maker, then had him arrested.

After his arrest, White, on his attorney's advice, met with federal investigators.

To protect Crum, Thornsbury said they pressured White into firing his lawyer and replacing him with another who'd been handpicked by them. After switching lawyers, White dropped his allegations against Crum and was sentenced to up to 15 years behind bars.

Addressing the court, Thornsbury said he allowed the law "to be clouded by my loyalty, ambition and pride."

"I relive that 10-second conversation with Sheriff Crum every day," he said. "I relive it and regret it, but I can't change that it happened."

He said the mistakes he made are "with me every waking day, hour, second. It's all I think about."

White, though, told the court the conspiracy had turned his life upside down. He said Thornsbury had told him he'd only spend one month in jail and then be placed on home confinement if he changed attorneys as they wanted. He ended up spending 240 days in jail with another 47 days on home confinement.

White said his name has been "drug through the mud for over the year" and said he fears for his life now, adding it's "no longer safe for me to live in Mingo County."

"If the system had worked, I wouldn't have spent all of this time and all of this stress, or be fearing for my life," he said.

White said the conspiracy "killed everything I have ever worked for."

"In West Virginia, there are three different laws," he said. "The federal law, the state law and the Mingo County law.
"Mingo County law is the one I fear the most."

A federal grand jury also had charged Thornsbury with conspiring to frame the husband of a woman with whom he was in a romantic relationship, but that charge was dropped in exchange for him pleading guilty to the corruption charge. He also agreed to resign.

In handing down the sentence, U.S. District Judge Thomas E. Johnson compared the way Thornsbury abused the powers of his office to the actions of a third world dictator.

"This structure is that of a third world country," Johnston said. "He corrupted the system that is supposed to stop us from being that type of country."

Hillary Hall of WOWK-TV contributed to this report.