A former judge from Mingo County, Michael Thornsbury, was recently sentenced to 50 months in federal prison on federal charges of conspiracy to violate the civil rights of a citizen. He also received a fine of $6,000. Thornsbury’s crimes carried a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Thornsbury’s situation began in 2008, when his secretary broke off their affair, claiming that she wanted to stay with her husband. Judge Thornsbury then attempted to harm her husband in several different ways. One time, he urged a friend to place a magnetic metal box of drugs under the husband’s car in order to get the husband convicted of possession. The move was fortunately unsuccessful. Thornsbury later befriended a state trooper in order to influence the trooper’s actions, including persuading the trooper to file a false complaint against the husband for larceny, based on an action that was condoned by the husband’s employer. Thornsbury also tried to persuade the Mingo County emergency services director to become a grand jury foreman, with the purpose of indicting the husband to get private information that could then be used against him. Finally, in 2012, Thornsbury tried to make it appear that in a situation where the husband was assaulted, the husband was the instigator. He sought a six-month sentence, which would have been extreme for that type of offense. The case was eventually dismissed.
In 2009, the trooper was placed on administrative leave during an internal investigation. Thornsbury’s intentions eventually met the suspicions of several government employees, who were aware of the affair and knew that the charges against the husband were baseless. Finally, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin filed charges against Thornsbury, who entered his guilty plea in September. Before he did so, his pay and law license were suspended. Thornsbury finally resigned from the bench.
Thornsbury becomes the third Mingo County official to be sent to federal prison on charges of corruption. The other two officials were County Commissioner David Baisden and Chief Magistrate Dallas Toler. Baisden received 20 months for conspiring to keep local businesses from talking to the FBI about illegal campaign contributions received by the Mingo County Sheriff and prescription pain medication. Toler received 27 months.
Thornsbury served on the bench for 17 years and at one time was Mingo County’s only judge. Prior to the sentence, his attorney asked the federal court for leniency. U.S. Attorney Booth Godwin also filed a motion requesting that 10 months be removed from Thornsbury’s sentence due to his assistance in the ongoing federal probe into Mingo County’s corruption. Even with a lighter sentence, Thornsbury faces a number of civil lawsuits related to his conspiracy conviction. One was filed by his niece, who claimed that after she learned about Thornsbury’s affair, he became fearful she would tell his wife and forced her out of her job.
While Thornsbury’s sentence, even though light, is welcome, it is a shame that someone with such an important role could be corrupted so thoroughly.
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