A dark story is unfolding in the shadow of the rolling hills of rural West Virginia. A story of drug deals, sex abuse, extortion, blackmail and murder. In which politicians behave like Afghan warlords, judges attempt to imprison husbands so they can steal their wives, the law is used to settle scores, and you might go to prison for trying to collect a few thousand dollars a government official owes you.
Mingo is a waning county where political figures are the privileged class. This is Hatfield and McCoy country, literally: What is now Mingo County was the homeland of the Hatfield family. In Mingo, political power and wealth are concentrated in the hands of a few families. With its coal mining decimated, the official unemployment rate is well over 8 percent. While the state of West Virginia leans Democratic by a margin of 2 to 1, the county of Mingo splits for the Democrats at a rate of 9 to 1.
The sordid tale began to unravel when Mingo County Sheriff Eugene Crum was gunned down in his car as he ate lunch on April 3rd.
News reports at the time suggested that the sheriff, who had only been in the job three months and two days, was killed because of his zero-tolerance policy for drugs. Crum’s funeral was widely reported as a tribute to a heroic officer of the law gunned down in the line of duty. His wife Rosie took over as interim sheriff but resigned on September 4th. In her resignation letter she recommended Dave Rockel, former Chief of Police for Williamson, West Virginia as her replacement.
Melvin Maynard, the father of the sheriff’s accused killer, Tennis Maynard, has since claimed that his son, “a one-time boxing student of Crum’s,” shot Crum because the sheriff raped him when he was a teenager. Tennis Maynard’s brother Leslie claims that when Tennis tried to report the incident “they just throwed it away.”
Prior to becoming sheriff, Crum was a magistrate for 12 years. Though he was described by locals as a “good man” who “worked every day hard to protect this community,” Crum was accused of sexually assaulting a 19-year-old intoxicated woman in the back of a police cruiser in 2001. Those charges were later withdrawn. Crum did admit to having consensual sex with a woman in the back of a Delbarton police cruiser while two officers listened from the front seat. Crum was Delbarton’s chief of police at the time.
Crum’s death is a more complicated story than just a cop lost to the war on drugs. Mingo County Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury was charged earlier this month with conspiring — in partnership with Crum — to prevent a man from cooperating with an FBI drug investigation.
Evidence presented in several indictments indicates Thornsbury’s character is questionable at best. In addition to the charges he is now facing related to Eugene Crum, Thornsbury faces conspiracy charges for “repeatedly” attempting to frame Robert Woodruff, the husband of his former secretary Kim Woodruff, with whom he was having an affair.
After Kim Woodruff reportedly broke off their affair, a U.S. district attorney charges, Thornsbury began pursuing her husband on a concocted assortment of drug and larceny charges, with the apparent aim of forcing Kim to return to him. The strategy seems to have been to create legal and financial hardship on her husband and family.
The alleged conspirators in the framing case include: Brandon Moore, West Virgina’s 2009 State Trooper of the year; Nathan Glanden, a police officer from the town of Gilbert; and Jarrod Fletcher, a business partner of Thornsbury who is also Mingo County’s director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
According to the indictment, Fletcher was integral in assisting Thornsbury and Mingo County Prosecutor Michael Sparks organize a grand jury probe of Woodruff. Sparks dropped the case the day before it was due to go to trial.
Moore has been suspended pending an investigation. Glanden is reportedly still working. Fletcher is reportedly cooperating with the FBI investigation.
But it is Thornsbury’s connection to Crum that may cause him real trouble.
Described as a “a close associate and political ally” of Crum, Thornsbury reportedly purchased “several thousand dollars worth of signs and other promotional items on credit from a shop in Delbarton,” to assist Crum with his run for sheriff. The owner of the store has since been identified as George R. White, who is currently serving one to 15 years in Southwestern Regional Jail for drugs offenses.
White is also apparently the “GW” identified in the federal indictment as the FBI witness Crum and Thornsbury attempted to silence.
Crum is alleged to have owed White $3,000. However, rather than pay his bill, he dispatched an undercover deputy to White’s store, where White allegedly sold the officer three oxycodone tablets. White’s premises were searched and White was charged with “possession of controlled substances with intent to deliver.”
The search was conducted by Crum and then-Williamson police chief Dave Rockel (whom Crum’s widow would later recommend to take over as Mingo’s sheriff). The charges against White are based on their report.
It was at this point in the twisted tale that the FBI became involved. Through White’s lawyer — former Mayor of Williamson Charles “Butch” West — White claimed that on “multiple occasions prior to his arrest, he unlawfully provided Crum with prescription narcotic pills at Crum’s request.” White also told the FBI about “election law violations committed by Crum.”
Rockel did not take over from Crum’s widow as sheriff. The job went to James Smith — the man Crum originally beat to secure the job of sheriff. Last week Smith fired Rockel from his job as the county’s chief field deputy.
In charges brought against Thornsbury it is claimed that “Sheriff Crum and Mingo County Prosecuting Attorney Michael Sparks — also a close associate and political ally of Sheriff Crum — informed Judge Thornsbury that [White] had provided the FBI with incriminating information regarding Sheriff Crum.”
The federal case against Thornsbury is that he, Sparks the prosecutor, Crum and Mingo County Commissioner David Baisden “devised a scheme to prevent [White] from further communicating to the FBI and others incriminating information regarding Sheriff Crum.”
It is worth noting that Sparks defeated “Butch” West in in the election for Mingo Country Prosecuting Attorney in 2012.
Mingo County Commissioner Baisden is also currently the subject of an investigation and faces charges of extortion relating to a local business. Allegedly he attempted to coerce Appalachian Tire to outfit his personal vehicle with tires but only charge him the discounted government rate. Appalachian Tire refused, and as punishment it is claimed that Baisden “steered the county’s tire contract elsewhere, costing Appalachian Tire thousands of dollars.”
Speaking to the Associated Press, a local barber, Wesley Taylor, said: “Stuff like that happens all the time around here.” Apparently what was surprising was not the strong-arming but that Appalachian Tire wouldn’t go along with Baisden’s request.
The ruse cooked up by Crum, Thornsbury, Sparks and Baisden involved informing George White’s brother, Glen, that if George fired his attorney — West — and replaced him with one recommended by Sparks, Crum and Baisden, Thornsbury would look favorably upon White when his case came to trial, and ensure that White received a light sentence. Upon being told of the plan, according to prosecutors, Thornsbury is claimed to have said that it would be in White’s “best interest to obtain new counsel.”
White duly fired “Butch” West and hired the lawyer favored by Sparks, Crum and Baisden, former Mingo county prosecutor Ronald Rumora. After the lawyer switch was made, White provided a statement to Crum’s deputies denying ever having provided Crum with narcotics.
The local FBI office did not respond to requests for comment. Several sources contacted by The Daily Caller said local people are afraid to talk to reporters. Considering the actions detailed here against residents, and with the reins of power tightly controlled by a handful of powerful local players, it is understandable that residents would expect speaking openly to bring retribution.
One local who does talk says they are not surprised to learn officials intimidate witnesses and bend the laws to their personal will. Intimidation and strong-arming by local law enforcement and judicial officials have become a way of life in Mingo County, Delbarton resident James Lee Fouch told the Charleston Gazette.
“When I got pulled over, the officer who came to my window said it was because I hung the wrong campaign sign,” Fouch said. “Around here it’s who you know, not what you know.”
The father of Crum’s alleged killer, Melvin Maynard, has stated that he would like his son’s trial to be moved out of Mingo country because he doesn’t believe he will receive a fair trial.
Maynard’s trial starts December 9th — the twelfth anniversary, as it happens, of Crum’s 2:30 a.m. quickie with the intoxicated young woman in the backseat of a Delbarton Police Department cruiser.