Thursday, January 24, 2013

Corruption in Mingo County, West Virginia

I went to West Virginia in 1980 to help get the Libertarian Party and its Ed Clark for President campaign on the ballot. One of the places I had a local libertarian to collect signatures on ballot forms was Williamson, Mingo County, way down in the SW corner. Hatfield & McCoy territory.

My local libertarian had to get a permit to gather signatures from the county clerk, and when we went in to get it we didn't have to say anything: she knew who we were and what we wanted. She said "Wait right here" and disappeared. About 15 seconds later the County Sheriff walked in, stuck his face about 12 inches from the poor guy and said "What you are doing is REAL unhealthy." He had the guts to get his permit anyway, but I don't know that he got many signatures.

I put an ad in the local paper and hired several people to collect signatures, giving each a clipboard, forms, and pens, and sent them out into the town. One of the few who came back in the afternoon threw down his clip board and said "I recommend you find some other place to get on the ballot. It's too dangerous here: The first house I went to sicked a dawg on me, and the second place run me off with a shotgun. You should just leave this county. It ain't healthy." Most of the people I hired didn't come back at all, so they got to keep the clipboards.

That night I got on the highway to drive back to Charleston. When I was way out in the light-less countryside a car zoomed up behind me, hung about 4 feet off the rear bumper for several minutes, then pulled out and passed me. County sheriff car. Lucky for me, after it passed me I wondered if a second set of lights a hundred yards back might be another sheriff, double teaming me, maybe trying to push me over the limit so they would have a 'reason' to stop me and dump my soon to be moldering body in the adjacent river. I hung in right under the limit, and sure enough, after a few more minutes it closed fast, then pulled out and passed me, too. Another county sheriff car. They followed me for about 15 miles but never did anything.

A few years later I saw a little article in the paper which as I recall said pretty nearly everyone in the Mingo county government including the sheriffs, the prosecutors, and the judges had been indicted for running a drug ring, the cops murdering rival drug dealers, the prosecutor presenting 'evidence' to the judge that this was justified killing in self defense, and the judge says "Why, yes, indeedy. You are so right. Justifiable homicide of drug dealing scum. Case closed."

Anyway, I just came across an old People Magazine article about it. It doesn't say anything about murders, but 69 people were indicted, 69 convicted. The fire department was an arson ring, the police and sheriffs were drug dealers, and the president of the school board was bribing jurors. The Sheriff paid the local power broker about $100,000 for his job. One couple was pretty bitter about their convictions: they had been paying off the proper authorities since 1957.

UPDATE: It turns out that in 1988 there was a fair bit of news coverage of corruption in Mingo County. Here is a sample from the LA Times.

If interested in more coverage, try Googling "Mingo County corruption".

UPDATE March 2016: Here's some more on current Mingo County corruption. I can see why some WV sheriffs opposed going to permitless concealed carry of handguns regime this month: Criminals don't like armed victims. Here.

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