Analysis: Judge’s cooperation may lead to ‘bigger fish’

By Ron Gregory ronjgregory@gmail.com

September 22, 2013

CHARLESTON — Those familiar with the Federal judiciary were united Thursday in their belief that reports from the United States Attorney’s office could signal bad news for some Mingo Countians.

First, County Commissioner David Baisden decided to change the plea in his case from not guilty to guilty. That signaled to courthouse observers to believe Baisden, who attempted to extort a lower price for tires for his personal use from Appalachian Tire, had agreed to cooperate with Federal authorities in their on-going investigation of corruption.

Then, later in the day, Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury agreed to an “information” in Federal court. While Thornsbury stood strong and loudly proclaimed, “Absolutely not guilty” to an earlier charge involving a conspiracy to put the husband of an ex-lover in jail, an “information” normally indicates a defendant will plead guilty and cooperate with the authorities.

Earlier charged in the conspiracy indictment, Thornsbury has apparently agreed to plead guilty in the new “information” regarding drug trafficking in Mingo.

While most of the trail involving the drug trafficking seems to lead to the late Sheriff Eugene Crum, Thornsbury’s agreement to cooperate with the government may indicate difficult times are ahead for some.

From the onset of the investigation, local insiders have maintained that many of the acts that have occurred over the past few years are drug and/or election related. Thursday’s “information” would appear to support that concept.

Still, the major theory arising from both Baisden and Thornsbury’s cooperative stance with the government is that there are “bigger fish to fry” in Mingo County. As the apparent leader of at least part of the political power structure in Mingo, Thornsbury’s “information” has raised the most interest from courthouse observers.

One political consultant close to the investigation said, “You can bet Judge Thornsbury has agreed to provide the Feds with inside information about someone bigger than he is. That’s the only reason the government would agree to an ‘information.’”

At first glance, it is difficult to understand what “fish” might be bigger than the powerful circuit judge. The indictment and information almost make Thornsbury look like the ruling dictator of Mingo County, with various officials jumping to satisfy his demands and requests.

On the other hand, it is possible that United States Attorney Booth Goodwin and his staff would consider anyone above the county official level as a “bigger fish.”

Many think a look at financial reports filed by “Team Mingo,” of which Baisden and Thornsbury were key members, might reveal exactly who Federal agents are targeting. It is generally agreed that the drug trafficking along with the shooting death of Sheriff Crum are related to the overall conspiracies underway in Mingo.

One certainty is that Goodwin repeated Thursday that his investigation is on-going.

Perhaps the biggest loser of reputation to date is the late Sheriff Crum. Gunned down and being praised for his role in prosecuting drug trafficking in Mingo County, Crum was elevated to a high level of esteem statewide. Initially, reports were that his shooting death as he ate his lunch across from the Mingo Courthouse was “drug-related.”

Officials quickly doused that claim, saying the incident had nothing to do with drugs. Now, however, the theory is that “G.W.” identified in the “information” filed Thursday has a key role in illegal drug operations in Williamson and vicinity. As such, the theory that Crum’s death was drug-related has arisen again.

In a story that would have more twists and turns than any made-for-TV movie made to date, the current Mingo situation involves love affairs, drugs, money laundering, illegal campaign activities and more. Still, those with a keen eye on the matter continue to insist “this is only the tip of the iceberg.”

While it may take awhile to see what Baisden and Thornsbury are able to do for Federal prosecutors, the end result will likely confirm or disprove many of the theories being floated throughout the county at this time.