By Rachel Dove
WILLIAMSON - The attorneys for a defendant whose guilty plea to federal charges was thrown out but still faces criminal drug charges has requested a change of venue, citing the fact that they feel their client would not receive a fair and impartial trial in Mingo County.
George Ruben White, 65, of Delbarton, has been at the center of a federal corruption investigation since shortly after he was indicted and arrested by the late Sheriff Eugene Crum in 2013 on drug-related charges. Shortly thereafter, White and his attorney, Charles “Butch” West began corresponding with federal agents concerning allegations that Crum had purchased prescription pills from him while serving as a magistrate.
Federal investigators say that when Crum became aware of what was happening, he conspired with other officials in a scheme to protect himself from prosecution and allegedly offered the defendant a “better deal” if he ceased all communication concerning the allegations against Crum, and if White agreed to fire West and hire another attorney. These actions are said to have deprived White of his choice of attorney and violated his constitutional rights.
White was recently released from prison on bond and appeared before Mingo County Special Circuit Court Judge John Cummings, who threw out the guilty plea but stated that the charges against the defendant would remain. On Jan. 9, White, who was accompanied by attorneys Charles West and David Varney, was rearraigned on three counts of selling oxycodone to a confidential informant and one count of possession of oxycodone with intent to deliver.
Former Mingo County Circuit Court Judge Michael Thornsbury pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiring to deprive White of his rights (felony charge) and is scheduled for sentencing in April. Former Prosecutor C. Michael Sparks pleaded to a misdemeanor charge of depriving White of his rights and will be sentenced Feb 24.
The motion for change of venue was filed Friday in the Mingo County Circuit Clerk’s office and says that the concept of good cause for the request means proof exists that a defendant cannot get a fair trial in the county where the offense allegedly occurred because of locally extensive and hostile sentiment against the defendant.
“Thornsbury and Sparks held significant political influence in Mingo County,” the court document states. “There is no way to eliminate potential juror bias with respect to individuals who are sympathetic toward the former judge and prosecutor and who may seek retribution against the defendant for whatever reason. In addition, there have been family members of other political figures that have appeared at other proceedings in an attempt to influence those proceedings. Under these circumstances, locally extensive, present hostile sentiment exists against this defendant.”
The request goes on to say that this case has garnered a lot of media attention and the fact that the defendant previously pleaded guilty has been extensively reported and, despite the setting aside of that plea agreement, there is no way to eliminate the perception of guilt.
The decision as to whether to grant the change of venue request now lies in Cummings’ hands.