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Corruption scandals shred trust in southern W.Va.

By Vicki Smith

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Sept. 23 2013 10:31 a.m. MDT

The privileged few "have always gotten away with the things," said Taylor, the barber. "Then they get a political job and they think the rules don't apply to them."

"It's sad to say, but in Williamson and Mingo County, it's been one scandal after another," he said. "It's always been that way.... Nothing that happens here is really a jaw-dropper."

Last week, there was more.

Thornsbury was charged in a second conspiracy that prosecutors say aimed to protect Crum's career.

A longtime magistrate, Crum was elected sheriff last fall and took office in January. He won more indictments in his first three months than his predecessors had in the previous eight years.

But federal prosecutors now say Crum had himself been buying prescription painkillers from a man who made his campaign signs. Instead of paying his $3,000 debt, prosecutors say, Crum enlisted Baisden, Thornsbury and county Prosecutor Michael Sparks in a successful scheme to imprison the man on drug charges.

Sparks has denied any wrongdoing, and neither he nor Baisden has been charged. The judge, however, is cooperating with prosecutors and is expected to plead guilty.

Sheriff's department secretary Linette Morrison doesn't buy the story. She's known Crum for years, and her best friend is his widow, Rosie, who hasn't returned messages from The Associated Press.

"I absolutely do not believe he was doing drugs," Morrison said. "That's not the man I knew.

"I was around him enough that if something had been going on, I'd have seen it," she said. "It is the most ludicrous thing in the world. Eugene Crum was one of the finest men I've ever met."

Charles "Butch" West, a criminal defense attorney who ran against Sparks for prosecutor last year, said skepticism about the justice system is not limited to defendants.

Before Thornsbury took office in 1997, Elliott "Spike" Maynard was the longtime circuit judge. Maynard, who later served as a state Supreme Court justice, was a "tough, tough criminal law judge," West said. "But he was consistent."

Under Thornsbury, "there was no consistency," West said. "I got to a point where I really dreaded taking my clients into the courtroom and subjecting them to the kind of treatment I'd become accustomed to. A case didn't turn on its own facts; it turned on whatever was coming out of these offices."

Christopher Fletcher, a graduate of West Virginia University's forensic science program, said Mingo corruption is no different from anywhere else.

"You got friends, you pay them. Whoever controls the money controls everything," he said. "And the fact that it's hard to make a decent living here unless you've got a job in mining — well, money's a little more important when you don't have a lot of options."

County Commissioner Greg "Hootie" Smith said he sought election 11 years ago to clean things up.

"I am very disappointed to see embarrassment and shame brought upon our home," he said. "It's been very disappointing to see ... the people of Mingo County lose faith in their government again."

The allegations, Smith said, don't reflect the people he knows.

"But at this point I'm not going to speculate on anyone's actions," he said. "I'm accountable for my own."

Now, Mingo's unscathed leaders must regain the public's trust.

Newly appointed Sheriff James Smith, who ran against Crum last year, rallied his 18 deputies last week to deliver that message.

"I understand why they don't have trust for the system now," he said. "They trusted some of these men to do the job in this courthouse."

If the allegations prove true, he said, "They've let the public down."

Smith, who vows to cooperate with the FBI and State Police, said his deputies must do everything by the book, treat people fairly and prove they're here to help, not hurt.

"It ain't something that words are gonna help," he said. "We say, 'Trust me, it's going to be done right.' But until they see it, people ain't gonna believe it."

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