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Cost of Corruption
Mingo County Wrongdoing May Take Millions And Years To Correct
November 7, 2013

C L I C K   T O   P L A Y
Former Mingo County Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury's guilty plea actually raises more questions than it answers. The investigation into Mingo County corruption did not end with Thornsbury, but thus far, he is the biggest name to be snared in its net.

A small army of workers from the U.S. Attorney's office, FBI agents, state and local police have all been working on the Mingo County cases. So far, that work has generated a big bill. And the meter is still running.

"You've got prosecutor time," U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin, for the Southern District of West Virginia, said. "You've got investigator time. Ultimately, if they're sentenced to prison you've got incarceration costs which are right now running about $35,000 a year to incarcerate someone in federal prison. So, you're easily running up into the hundreds of thousands of dollars."

But even the major costs associated with the federal government's stake in the investigation don't begin to approach the monetary loss the state could be facing. Because of Thornsbury's long tenure on the bench, every ruling may have to be looked at to make sure it wasn't tainted by his touch.

"If there's a special judge who has to be appointed and all of the stuff that goes with that because it's not just the judge," Steve Canterbury, administrative director of the West Virginia Supreme Court, said. "The judge has to have a secretary, a court reporter, there has to be at least a law clerk, maybe even two because of the nature of how they have to look into this. And there may have to be an investigator. All of this is going to cost money. What I just said to you adds up to several hundred thousand dollars a year, right there. And if this goes on for several years you can see what we're up against. Now, that's all just projected. The court has to make its mind up. The court has given no indication whatsoever how this is gonna go. And we don't even know what kind of cases are going to come in."

How much could this potentially cost the state of West Virginia?

"$4 million," Canterbury said.

The cost of corruption in Mingo County has to be measured in more than just dollars and cents. Lives were ruined. Businesses were forced to close. Families were ripped apart. All because of wrongdoing at the courthouse.

"I believe that things have happened here," Della Cline-Gentile, a Williamson attorney, said. "I mean, children were basically sold. Whether it be for money or political reasons or control over a person I believe that happened. I believe children were bought and sold here."

Della Cline-Gentile has been practicing law in her home county for decades. But in 2008, she said she was forced to close her doors and sell her downtown Williamson building because of the toxic atmosphere surrounding the courthouse, which was under the thumb of Thornsbury and his minions.

"It became very difficult to make a living here if you were an attorney," Cline-Gentile said. "If you were an honest attorney and you weren't included in that circle of people and I certainly was not, it became very difficult to practice law."

The biggest problem surrounding the Mingo County shenanigans may not be the money it will ultimately cost us. It is the broken trust in a system that failed on many levels. A corrupt courthouse where justice was not handed out blindly. Instead, it was bought with cash, favors and political paybacks, benefiting those on the inside while punishing everyone else.

"We have it all," Cline-Gentile said. "We have drugs. We have bribery. I think we had just about everything. And people say, 'Somebody should make a movie.' It would be almost unbelievable to make a movie about the things that have gone on down here. I mean, I know of money changing hands. I know of deals taking place behind closed doors."

Goodwin said people need to have faith in their government.

"They need to know that things are being taken care of," Goodwin said. "That is the very foundation of our democracy. A government of the people, for the people, by the people and when someone corrupts that process in any way there are enormous social costs."

Despite the damage that's been done, there is hope for Mingo County. Once the rat's nest at the courthouse is finally cleaned out, there is an opportunity to elect new judges and commissioners who will serve the people instead of themselves. But for that to happen, Mingo County voters must abandon the practices of the past and look to a future without special favors, crooked slates and justice with strings attached.

"I think it will take a generation or two for people to really believe in it in Mingo," Canterbury said. "Because we're talking about not only laws that were broken and obviously rules of court that were broken. But we're talking about moral boundaries that were shattered. We're talking about the day to day lives of people being just destroyed for little more than somebody's most base desire."

Cline-Gentile said the county is moving in the right direction.

"And that's wonderful but the mess that is left here is tremendous. It is going to be a huge undertaking to try and clean this up," Cline-Gentle said.

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