By Rachel Dove
CHARLESTON - There are times during court proceedings that one can best obtain insight of the true nature of the case during closing remarks, as well as the defendant’s statement, if one is delivered. Such is true with the federal sentencing hearing of former Mingo County Prosecuting Attorney C. Michael Sparks, who spoke candidly and freely as he admitted the role he played in the case of public corruption, as well as a detailed explanation of the assistance he provided the government that took down a judge.
Sparks was sentenced to 12 months in federal prison for a misdemeanor charge of deprivation of rights under the color of law Monday afternoon, with U.S. District Judge Thomas Johnston saying that he would have sentenced the defendant to more time - a considerable amount more - if the law would allow.
The charges stemmed from a federal investigation surrounding George White, who had been indicted in Mingo County in 2013 on drug related charges. Shortly after his arrest, White told his attorney, Charles “Butch” West, that he had sold prescription drugs to Sheriff Eugene Crum, while he was serving in the capacity of magistrate. West arranged for his client to speak with federal investigators, and the information soon leaked to Crum. The sheriff is said to have enlisted the assistance of other “Team Mingo” members to develop a scheme to stop White from “taking him down”.
Crum, along with former commissioner David Baisden and former circuit judge Michael Thornsbury concocted a plan to persuade White to fire West and hire an attorney of their choosing and to cease his communication with the feds, with the promise of a lighter sentence. In order to assure the promised sentence would be granted, Sparks had to be included in the scheme because he was the one who had to agree, or the plan would not work.
Although the former prosecutor claims to have not been present during the initial meeting that was held inside Baisden’s county office, he was made aware of what was required of him and did not try to stop their plans from being carried out, did not report the crime to proper authorities and granted the lesser sentence after White held up his end of the bargain. Shortly thereafter, Crum was gunned down while sitting in a downtown Williamson parking lot and the investigation into public corruption in Mingo County kicked into high gear with the indictments of Thornsbury and Baisden.
When he was first informed the judge was under investigation, Sparks is said to have voluntarily stepped forward to assist the federal government, and is credited with providing crucial information that is largely credited for taking down the corrupt judge that according to Judge Johnston, ruled over Mingo County like a “third-world dictator”, and was also compared to the fictional character “Boss Hogg” from the television show “The Dukes of Hazzard”. Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby was quoted as saying that Sparks was an “invaluable, insider witness” who provided the “essential, initial crack in the wall of public corruption” into the crimes taking place within the county.
When asked during the sentencing on Monday if he had anything to say on his own behalf, Sparks shared an explanation of how everything played out, as well as his contribution to the investigation and apology. Below are inserts from that statement:
“I was once advised I was too honest to be in Mingo County politics. At the time, I considered such advice to be counter-intuitive. Now, with the benefit of experience and hindsight, I realize how perceptive the advice was. Circumstances have since revealed I lacked the necessary skepticism to conceptualize the bigger picture.”
“As a committed follower of Jesus Christ, I prayed daily that I would glorify God and personify the virtues of Christian leadership as Mingo County Prosecuting Attorney. For 11 years I succeeded. I attained unprecedented numbers for felony convictions, murder convictions, and drug convictions. I achieved a 100% trial conviction record in murder and drug cases. I earned a reputation for zealously fulfilling my official duties with integrity. But - we live in a cynical society where sentiment for public officials can instantly change. My failure to intervene when others convinced Mr. White to change lawyers was a neglect of duty that tarnishes an otherwise positive legacy of Christian leadership. I apologize to Mr. White for not protecting his right to counsel of choice.”
“Justice has been served by the federal investigation. Most notably, a corrupt judge with an insatiable thirst for power and control no longer reigns from the bench in Mingo County.”
“In candor to this Honorable Court, I must now clarify certain truths in my case, not to minimize, but rather to assure that Your Honor is fully informed. First, I did not devise the scheme to deprive Mr. White of his right to counsel of choice, but neglected my duty to stop it. It was never my purpose to obstruct the federal investigation. I never endeavored to protect the so-called ‘Team Mingo’ political faction. As far as I was concerned, Team Mingo was merely a marketing gimmick for the 2012 primary election. Even so, I could have and should have remained independent of both county political factions.”
“I began to assist the federal investigation 14 months ago at considerable risk to personal and family safety because I considered doing so to be my official and moral duty. I wanted to redeem myself by helping federal investigators in the pursuit of justice for Mingo County. I never demanded immunity or any other inducement in exchange for my assistance. I willingly provided extensive information and candidly answered questions without a lawyer. I maintained frequent contact with federal prosecutors and investigators without a lawyer. I testified before the grand jury without a lawyer or even a subpoena. I proactively solicited the cooperation of several material witnesses. I provided a “blueprint” of the county political and governmental structure that became the foundation for the federal investigation. I have been described as the “quarterback” that guided federal investigators to Thornsbury. It has been acknowledged that my contributions to the federal investigation saved the United States considerable time and resources.”
“My wife and children have already paid a tremendous price. My surrendered law license was the primary source of household income. Occupational security has given way to anxiety. Privacy has been supplanted by public scrutiny. Worst of all, my family has endured the possibility of losing my daily presence, provision, and protection if I am incarcerated.”
“Still, my hope in Jesus Christ prevails. I am exceedingly blessed to have my beautiful and devoted wife. My twin daughters bring me profound love and joy. I have the perpetual support of loving parents. Countless friends continually uplift me through encouraging words and heartfelt prayer. By God’s grace, beauty has arisen from the ashes. I am now an even better husband and father. I have become more spiritually focused in my brokenness.”
“It is my hope that beauty will also arise from the ashes for Mr. White.”