Ex-Mingo prosecutor seeks to avoid prison time

July 2, 2014

By Ron Gregory


CHARLESTON — While a federal judge ponders a plea agreement entered into by disgraced former Mingo County Prosecutor Michael Sparks, 44, the ex-prosecutor is requesting an alternative sentence.
Sparks is scheduled to be sentenced Monday in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia in Charleston. He previously pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of depriving a defendant’s rights under color of law.
While U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin has asked the judge to sentence Sparks to the maximum sentence of one year, the ex-prosecutor’s lawyer, Kent Varney, is arguing that an alternative sentence is more appropriate. Such alternative sentencing could include community service.
Sparks pleaded guilty to being involved in a scheme that deprived local printer George White of his constitutional right to choose his own attorney. In fact, charges agaist White were ultimately dropped.
Former Mingo County Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury pleaded guilty in the same scheme to depriving White of his chosen counsel. Thornsbury is appealing a 50-month prison sentence handed down by U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Johnston. Johnston is also scheduled to sentence Sparks.
The maximum sentence for Sparks is one year in prison, as federal prosecutors have said. Those familiar with the proceedings said Johnston has asked attorneys to file briefs by today as to how the plea agreement entered into by Sparks and federal prosecutors adequately addresses the severity of his crimes.
A Charleston attorney said that by requesting those memos, the judge was contemplating rejection of the plea agreement in favor of a stiffer sentence for the ex-prosecutor.
“That would be the only logical reason for asking for those briefs,” the lawyer, who is not involved in the case, said. “If the judge credits Sparks for cooperating, he wants to know the details of that cooperation.”
Sentencing for Sparks has been delayed several times, as he has apparently assisted federal authorities in the ongoing corruption investigation in Mingo County. The U.S. Attorney’s Office said the plan is to file a substantial-assistance motion saying that Sparks has cooperated. Those same attorneys argued, in their motion for Sparks to be sentenced to the maximum allowed by law, that he trampled on “a citizen’s constitutional rights in order to obstruct a federal investigation and protect his political faction’s dominance.”
In several previous filings, as well as in informations filed in the cases of other Mingo officials who have pleaded guilty, Goodwin has identified the political faction, “Team Mingo,” as corrupt. U.S. attorneys have linked Sparks to that faction.
As part of his plea agreement, Sparks resigned from office and gave up his law license.
The local printer, George White, has filed a lawsuit against Thornsbury, Sparks and several other state and county employees and officials.
Varney wrote, “(Sparks) is attempting to rebuild himself and his reputation. Mr. Sparks was employed as manager of a movie theater in South Williamson, Kentucky. Since this entry of a plea, Mr. Sparks has taken a job with attorney Robert Carlton, working three days a week.”