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Mingo County sign maker is back to work

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George White, a pivotal figure in the 2012 federal investigation into Mingo County political corruption, is letting the lawsuit he filed against the disgraced circuit judge and prosecutor who admitted to conspiring to put him behind bars do his talking.

White, 65, was released from jail and the charges against him dismissed after former circuit judge Michael Thornsbury, 57, and former prosecutor Michael Sparks, 44, admitted in federal court they had schemed to deprive him of his constitutional rights in order to protect a political ally, the late former Sheriff Eugene Crum.

Now, White has filed suit against Thornsbury, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, Sparks, Commissioner David Baisden, the Mingo County Commission, Mingo County Sheriff's Department, former Williamson Chief of Police C. David Rockell, the City of Williamson and William Davis, former Mingo County Flood Plain coordinator.

According to the lawsuit, Crum had owed White $3,000 for election signs. Rather than pay him, White says the sheriff arranged to have him arrested on drug charges and, following White's indictment, Crum planted evidence in White's sign shop then confiscated other, undisclosed items from his business, White's Signs. He says the evidence that was planted as well as the items that were confiscated from his shop "subsequently disappeared" from evidence lockers.

After his arrest, White, at his attorney's urging, said he provided federal investigators with information about Crum's alleged drug use as well as election law violations.

White's suit claims Crum learned of those meetings and turned to his political allies, Thornsbury and Sparks, for help. Together the trio devised a scheme to prevent White from giving investigators any more information by offering him a lighter sentence if he first fired the attorney who had suggested he talk to federal investigators and then replace the attorney with one of their choosing.

If White did as asked, they offered to dismiss three of the five criminal counts against White, allow him to serve the sentence on the two remaining charges concurrently and requiring him to forfeit just $10,000, half of the amount Sparks originally had sought.

White says Sparks and Baisden, 66, arranged a meeting in March 2013 with White's brother, Glenn, to broker the plea deal while Crum himself updated Thornsbury on the scheme.

Crum was shot to death in April 2013 as he sat in his cruiser. The two cases are not related.

The scheme began to unravel in August, when a federal grand jury in Charleston indicted Thornsbury and Baisden — Thornsbury was charged with conspiring to have a romantic rival arrested and manipulating a Mingo County grand jury into pursuing criminal charges against the man, while Baisden was charged with using his authority as the county's purchasing agent to extort a deep discount on tires for his personal vehicle.

A month later U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin filed an Information against Thornsbury, detailing his involvement in the White case. Thornsbury, who pleaded guilty to that charge, resigned from the bench in October and is awaiting sentencing.

Sparks, who also resigned, pleaded guilty in November and is awaiting sentencing on a misdemeanor conspiracy charge.

Baisden, meanwhile, has been sentenced to 20 months in federal prison on the extortion charge. Goodwin said that when the tire shop balked at giving him the discount he'd demanded, Baisden, acting in his capacity as the commission's purchasing agent, admitted he stripped it of $60,000 in county business.

White, who spent about nine months behind bars, is out now. Though he did answer the phone this week at his sign shop, he refused to discuss the events of the past 15 months.

"I'm not going to talk right now," he said.

But his lawsuit, filed by Williamson attorney Charles Stanford West and Charleston attorneys Kevin Thompson and David Barney of Thompson Barney, says plenty, claiming the county, the Supreme Court of Appeals and the City of Williamson are all legally accountable for "negligent or tortious acts or omissions" by the alleged perpetrators, who it claims "maliciously, corruptly and negligently" conspired to violate White's civil rights, arrest him for a crime he did not commit, search his business and cause him to be jailed for nine months, incurring fees, have his property confiscated, force him to forfeit $10,000 and cost him his business.

It seeks unspecified compensatory damages for negligence, lost profits, lost business, moving costs, emotional and mental distress and damage to White's reputation, punitive damages for "the willful, want, reckless and grossly negligent" actions by the defendants, plus attorney fees, court costs and interest.