Ex-Mingo prosecutor Michael Sparks asks for alternative sentence to avoid prison

Former Mingo County prosecuting attorney Michael Sparks is asking a federal judge to, rather than send him to prison, give him an alternative sentence, like community service — in which his attorney says Sparks could teach others about the “perils of political corruption.”

Sparks, 44, pleaded guilty earlier this year to one count of deprivation of rights under the color of law, a misdemeanor. He admitted that the was part of a scheme to deprive George White of his right to have the attorney of his choice.

Federal prosecutors have asked U.S. District Judge Thomas Johnston to sentence Sparks to one year in jail, the statutory maximum the charge carries. He is to be sentenced Monday in Charleston.

“His conduct was deplorable. He grossly abused his office as prosecutor, trampling a citizen’s constitutional rights in order to obstruct a federal investigation and protect his political faction’s dominance,” Assistant U.S. Attorneys Steve Ruby and Haley Bunn wrote in a sentencing memorandum filed in February. “It is rare that a case plainly warrants a sentence at the statutory maximum, but this case surely does.”

Sparks’ sentencing had been delayed several times, at least one for a scheduling conflict for Sparks’ attorney.

Prosecutors have said they plan to file a substantial-assistance motion because of Sparks’ cooperation. He met several times with federal prosecutors and testified against his co-defendants, according to the sentencing memorandum filed Monday by Sparks’ attorney, Kent Varney.

Michael Thornsbury, Mingo County’s former circuit judge, who pleaded guilty to a felony, also admitted to participating in the plot to keep White from telling federal agents he gave prescription painkillers to former sheriff Eugene Crum. Thornsbury was sentenced to 50 months in federal prison last month. White has filed a lawsuit in Mingo Circuit Court against Thornsbury, Sparks, and other state and county employees and officials.

Varney asks the judge to consider that Sparks has complied with the conditions of his bond since being charged by information in October. An information is similar to an indictment, but generally means a defendant has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

Johnston asked the parties Monday to file briefs explaining why they believe Sparks’ plea agreement “adequately reflects the seriousness of defendant’s criminal conduct.”

As part of his plea deal with prosecutors, Sparks resigned from office and surrendered his law license.

“Instead of allowing this to ruin his life and his family, he is attempting to rebuild himself and his reputation,” the memorandum states. “Mr. Sparks was employed as manager of a movie theater in South Williamson, Kentucky. Since this entry of a plea Mr. Sparks has taken a job with attorney Robert Carlton working three days a week.”

After finding out what White planned to say about Crum, then-County Commissioner David Baisden and Crum approached Sparks about a scheme to get White to switch attorneys in exchange for a lighter sentence.

White has filed a lawsuit in Mingo Circuit Court against Thornsbury, Sparks, and other state and county employees and officials.

Sparks gave White a more favorable plea agreement than he normally would have with other defendants facing similar drug charges, according to the stipulation of facts signed by Sparks.

White was sentenced to up to 15 years in prison. The drug charges he pleaded to would run at the same time rather than consecutively, as the plea deal suggested. White spent about 240 days in jail before Senior Status Circuit Judge John Cummings, who was appointed to fill in for Thornsbury, vacated White’s conviction and dismissed the charges with prejudice earlier this year.

Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.

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