Bringing corrupt officials to justice

Sadly, news last week of more corruption in Mingo County was not especially surprising. West Virginians have come to expect a certain level of wrongdoing among public officials in some southern counties.

That does not excuse it, of course – but it helps to explain why it happens. Until what amounts to a culture of corruption in some places ends, reports of public officials on the wrong end of indictments will continue to be regular occurrences.

In Mingo County, federal prosecutors delivered a one-two punch last week. A circuit judge, Michael Thornsbury, is accused of trying to frame his secretary’s husband, possibly to continue an affair he was having with her. In the other case, a county commissioner, David Baisden, is charged with trying to extort a company into giving him a discount on tires for his personal vehicle, then ordering that the county would buy no more tires from the firm when it refused to buckle under.

It gets worse: Among those who allegedly helped the judge in his scheme is a State Police trooper, who also is under investigation.

Again, corruption is nothing new in some southern counties.

But what about here, in northern West Virginia?

Unfortunately, we are not immune. Earlier this year, William Ihlenfeld, who is U.S. attorney for the Northern District of West Virginia, revealed a public corruption case in Clarksburg. There, the police chief and a lieutenant in his department resigned after a probe began into the department’s handling of a domestic violence complaint against a city councilman. In essence, police were accused of dragging their feet.

At last report, that investigation was continuing.

When Ihlenfeld established his public corruption unit, we applauded his intention to root out and punish those guilty of abusing the public trust. His office’s speedy, decisive response to the Clarksburg situation was evidence Ihlenfeld, like his counterpart in the Southern District, considers such work a priority.

Clearly, they are correct in that attitude. Corrupt public officials both undermine West Virginians’ faith in government and give our state black eyes elsewhere. But the U.S. attorneys, by making it plain they intend to snip away at the web of corruption in our state, give Mountain State residents hope cities and counties need not throw in the towel and surrender to criminals who gain political power.

The “takeaway” from situations in both Clarksburg and Mingo County, then, is that West Virginians fed up with corruption have someone they can turn to in faith wrongdoing will not be swept under the rug. Though it may not seem like it, that represents progress.