A state disciplinary agency is investigating three Mingo County attorneys, including an assistant prosecutor, who were referenced in federal corruption cases against other officials.
The Office of Disciplinary Counsel is investigating Ronald Rumora, Matthew Chandler and Wesley White, representatives of the office confirmed.
Rachel Fletcher Cipoletti, chief counsel for the office, said she could only confirm the existence of an open investigation and could provide no other details.
Rumora is a private defense attorney who previously served as a Mingo County prosecutor. Until last week, both Chandler and White worked as assistant prosecuting attorneys on a part-time basis. Chandler resigned Thursday, new Mingo County Prosecutor Teresa Maynard said.
He resigned before an emergency meeting of the Mingo County Commission where Maynard was appointed to take over as prosecutor for Michael Sparks, Commissioner Greg "Hootie" Smith said in an email.
Chandler and Smith work together at Smith's private law firm, and Smith said that played a role in Chandler's decision to leave the prosecutor's office.
"However, I wanted to let you know the reason Matthew Chandler resigned as a part-time assistant prosecutor before the emergency meeting was because he is an associate attorney in my private law practice and since we are down to two commissioners my vote was necessary to name a new prosecutor and he (and) I did not want there to be any appearance of impropriety," Smith said in the email.
Smith said he consulted with the state Ethics Commission about the situation. After the consultation, Smith said he felt it would be a conflict for him to vote for a prosecutor who would then be Chandler's employer.
Because former Commissioner Dave Baisden recently resigned in accordance with his own plea deal on a federal charge, Smith's vote was required to reach the two-person quorum needed for commission meetings, Smith said.
Smith said he could not comment as to whether references to Chandler in a federal indictment or the investigation by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel played a role in Chandler's decision. Both men have fully cooperated with federal investigators, Smith said.
Chandler did not return a phone message left for him at the office Friday afternoon.
Although not specifically mentioned by name, Rumora and Chandler are referenced in two different federal charges against admitted felon and ex-judge Michael Thornsbury.
In September, the office of U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin accused Thornsbury of repeatedly trying to frame the husband of an ex-lover. The last of the several alleged attempts involved trying to convict the husband, Robert Woodruff, of a crime in connection with an alleged fight.
In 2012, Woodruff and two other men fought. Although evidence pointed to Woodruff as the victim, Gilbert police officer Nathan Glanden obtained an arrest warrant for Woodruff, according to documents filed in federal court.
After Woodruff was arrested, Thornsbury allegedly sent his friend, Jeff Cline, to tell the prosecutor's office Woodruff should be sent to jail for six months. Ignoring the fact the evidence pointed to Woodruff as the victim, that's a significantly harsher sentence than would be expected for the charge, according to the federal indictment.
Still, "a prosecutor for prosecutor (Michael) Sparks' office" offered a plea agreement to Woodruff that would have included a six-month stint in jail, the indictment states.
In a September interview with the Daily Mail, Sparks said Chandler was the attorney who offered the deal.
"I want to make clear, in my discussions with (Chandler), he has made it clear that again, the plea offer was made before the judge's friend approached him," Sparks said at the time.
Earlier in the interview Sparks said the deal was offered before his office received the police report or video evidence of the incident. They made the offer because the investigating officer insisted upon the deal, Sparks said.
"I mean, the witness statements all supported the alleged victims were the aggressor," Sparks said at the time.
"And then the video, anyone that would watch that video, no one could come to the conclusion that (Woodruff) acted inappropriately and was the aggressor or committed a crime."