By Rachel Dove
WILLIAMSON - Less than 24 hours after Darrin McCormick tendered his resignation as mayor of Williamson, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin Tuesday charged McCormick, 50, with making a materially false statement in a federal matter.
McCormick, who resigned effective April 30 during a special City Council meeting held Monday evening, read a statement he had prepared announcing his intention to resign, but did not give a reason.
Speculation and rumors have followed the mayor over the last few months, after a suspension with pay from the manager’s position with the Williamson Branch of the Bank of Mingo followed a federal investigation into possible wrongdoing in a case that already has sent several others to federal prison.
McCormick had been suspended with pay for nearly a year, then, according to bank sources, was terminated.
According to the charge, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Charleston, McCormick’s false statement pertains to suspicious banking activity by Aracoma Contracting, LLC, which held an account at the Williamson Branch of the Bank of Mingo. The charge explains that McCormick’s false statement concerned a matter within the jurisdiction of the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service.
“Federal investigations are serious matters,” Goodwin said, “and providing false information to federal investigators is a serious crime. When people try to lead investigators astray with false statements, justice suffers, and that hurts all of us.”
Tuesday’s charge stems from an investigation being conducted by the FBI and IRS Criminal Investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Ryan is handling the prosecution.
McCormick’s resignation letter reads as follows:
“It is with deep regret that I must inform you that, as of April 30, 2014, I will resign my position as mayor of the city of Williamson. Being elected and serving the citizens of Williamson has been one of the most humbling and rewarding experiences of my life.
“It is my hope that by taking this action at this time that the city council members, staff, and various boards of the city will continue the positive momentum of the many exciting projects and opportunities that are just on the horizon for our community. It is my desire to continue to support these many initiatives on a volunteer basis, if permitted to do so.
“Williamson is fortunate to have officials and employees who are competent, loyal and dedicated to maintaining the highest level of city services and advancing the quality of life of our citizens. It has been my extreme honor to have worked with each and every one of you over the last nine years, and I can only hope that I have the opportunity to do so again.
“My home and heart will always be in Williamson.”
The mayor’s resignation letter, when read aloud, brought tears to the eyes of councilwomen Connie Rockel and Sherry Brown. Shortly after the letter was read, council voted to name Attorney Steven Knopp as the interim mayor. Knopp has been serving the city as municipal judge since 2011 and will now step forward to fill the mayor’s position.
Knopp is with the law firm Lambright and Knopp. He has been a practicing attorney for more than 30 years, beginning in 1983 as an assistant attorney general under Chauncey H. Browning Jr., and later was an assistant prosecuting attorney for Kanawha County, as well as disciplinary counsel for the West Virginia State Bar. He has played an active role in Mingo County community organizations for the last 15 years, and has served on the vestry of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.
Knopp addressed the council, as well as McCormick, and shared the following comment:
“Mr. Mayor, you have done more in the last few years for this city than what has been done in many years. To those who have said our city will never prosper again, I say you have proven them wrong. What you have accomplished shows they don’t know what they’re talking about. I look forward to having your support. You all have done wonderful things in this city and I pledge to continue to move in a positive direction.
“Always remember, Mr. Mayor, that the people who really know you and love you are the only ones whose opinions really matter.”
“You’ve been the fairest of all the mayors I’ve ever served on this council with,” said Councilman York Smith. “I’ve known you all your life, and I have thoroughly enjoyed working alongside of you. I won’t ever forget those times.”
“I’ve worked as a city attorney for 20 years, counting the time I have served both Williamson and Matewan,” said City Attorney C. Christopher Younger. “I hope that community members appreciate how hard you’ve worked for them. I am proud to have served with you and I’m glad I was able to help.”
Williamson Fire Chief Jerry Mounts told the council that he was probably the longest-serving city employee currently working, now serving in his 39th year. He thanked the mayor for his hands-on approach to the operations of the fire department, and told the mayor that the city was really going to miss him - and said that he most certainly would as well.
In other business, council voted unanimously to replace Councilman Matthew Thornsbury, who gave his resignation during the last council meeting due to plans to relocate out of city limits, with Judy Hamrick, who the mayor said was more than qualified to fill the vacancy. Hamrick will begin her new position May 1. She currently serves on the Williamson Housing Authority Board and a replacement for that seat will be named in the near future.
Clarence Mitchell recently resigned from the Utility Board and Wallace Dale Dempsey was named to replace him.
The next meeting of Williamson City Council is scheduled for April 24 at 6 p.m., and will be the last official meeting for both McCormick and Thornsbury.