Mingo commissioner Baisden pleads guilty to federal charge

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Mingo County Commissioner David Baisden pleaded guilty to an extortion charge Tuesday -- the first county official to admit guilt in what federal prosecutors say is an ongoing investigation into corruption in the county.Baisden, 66, of Delbarton, told U.S. District Judge John Copenhaver on Tuesday that in 2009, he demanded Appalachian Tire sell him tires for his personal vehicle at a discounted price only available for government vehicles.When Appalachian Tire refused to give him a discount, Baisden -- who was also the county's purchasing agent -- steered the county's contract to a different company, costing Appalachian Tire thousands of dollars.He faces a maximum of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine when Copenhaver sentences him on Jan. 14. He also must resign from the Mingo County Commission before his sentencing.After the hearing, Baisden and his attorney, Jim Cagle, piled into the front seats of a pickup truck his granddaughter had pulled to the front of the courthouse."I love them and want them to continue to pray for me," Baisden said of the residents of Mingo County, before shutting the truck's door."What this shows you is elected officials have to play by the same set of rules as everyone else," U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said after the hearing. "What Commissioner Baisden did was abuse his power to shake down an honest business for special favors. It's brazen, ugly corruption. Old-fashioned graft like this destroys public confidence in government. Citizens deserve better." Baisden cost Appalachian Tire tens of thousands of dollars since 2009, Goodwin previously said. Discounts for tires for government vehicles can range from 45 percent to 52 percent, based on the tire's size and other factors, according to Jeri Whitehead, director of purchasing for the Kanawha County Commission.Goodyear has a contract with the state. Appalachian Tire is a local distributor of Goodyear. After his indictment, Baisden resigned as the county's purchasing agent.During the hearing Tuesday, Baisden said he left two voice-mail messages for the tire store's manager after the company refused to provide him a discount."I asked what the reason was I couldn't get the discount," he said about one of the messages he left. "I told him to please call me back and let's discuss."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby told the judge that Baisden ordered Jerry Colegrove, who worked for the county commission, to tell Appalachian Tire that Baisden "was a powerful official and that Appalachian could risk losing its business" with the commission.Baisden's granddaughter sat in the courtroom wiping tears from her eyes."He's doing OK," she said after the hearing.Baisden's trial had been scheduled for Oct. 21. He remains free on $10,000 bail.
Baisden was also mentioned last month when federal prosecutors charged Mingo Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury for the second time.Prosecutors say Baisden and others helped Thornsbury interrupt a federal investigation into then-Mingo County Sheriff Eugene Crum, and helped cover up allegations that Crum illegally received prescription painkillers from a drug dealer. Thornsbury is scheduled to plead guilty to that charge Wednesday.Goodwin said Baisden is cooperating with an ongoing investigation in Mingo County and "he won't be further charged in that investigation."Before he was elected commissioner in 2009, Baisden was the assessor in Mingo County. Baisden can never run for office again, the plea deal stipulates.Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723. 
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