WILLIAMSON, W.Va. -- Mingo County deputies were systematically targeted, and at least one was fired earlier this year, after investigating allegations in 2012 that then Sheriff-elect Eugene Crum was peddling drugs.
Details of Crum's alleged drug activity were not revealed until earlier this year, when federal investigators accused other Mingo County officials of helping Crum try to thwart an FBI investigation.
Crum, who was shot and killed in April, fired Sgt. Arthur Farra in February for "insubordination." But in September, then-Mingo County Prosecutor Michael Sparks said he'd heard new information that led him to believe there was a different reason Farra was let go.
Sparks wouldn't elaborate at the time, and Farra was reinstated to his post with back pay last week.
Recent interviews with Sparks, new Sheriff James Smith and a transcript from a hearing where Farra tried to appeal his firing shed light on the acts leading up to the termination, and a larger scheme of collusion and corruption involving Crum and others.
"You just put the pieces together, you could see that he was targeted from the start and he didn't have a chance," Smith told the Daily Mail last week.
A promise of employment
Registered Democrats far outnumber Republicans in Mingo County, so many races are typically decided in the primary election.
Crum narrowly defeated then-Chief Field Deputy James Smith in the primary for sheriff in the spring of 2012. The sheriff at the time, Lonnie Hannah, lost his own race for county commission to incumbent Dave Baisden.
At some point after the primary election and before Crum officially took charge, a private citizen approached an employee with the sheriff's department, Sparks and Smith confirmed in separate interviews with the Daily Mail last week.
The person told the employee if Farra and two other deputies were fired, then there would be a "promise of employment" for the person already working in the department, Sparks said.
Smith said he heard the same thing. He said he believed Deputy Mike Miller and Lt. Joey Ferris were the other two lawmen targeted.
Neither Smith nor Sparks would give the name of the private citizen. They also wouldn't identify the sheriff's department employee.
"I don't want to interfere with any investigation or litigation that may proceed from this," Sparks said.
The Daily Mail was unable to contact Farra. His attorney, Andy Katz, said he thought the sheriff's department didn't approve of some investigations done by Farra but said he didn't want to go into detail.
In a March hearing, Farra and Katz indicated Jarrod Fletcher approached Smith with the deal.
Fletcher was recently suspended indefinitely from two different roles with the county. A federal indictment against then-Judge Michael Thornsbury alleged Fletcher helped Thornsbury in his repeated attempts to frame the husband of an ex-lover.
The judge arranged for Fletcher to serve as foreman of a grand jury, the indictment states.
Crum, the head of the panel and Sparks -- who represented Crum -- decried the accusations during the March hearing.
It was one of many allegations that ultimately played no role in the panel's official order to uphold Crum's decision to fire Farra.
Farra had been with the sheriff's department more than a decade when Crum took charge.
In early January Crum and Farra spoke privately, according to testimony at Farra's appeal hearing. Each gave a different version of the meeting.
Crum said he asked Farra why he hadn't spoken to him in more than a year.
"... and he said 'I'll just tell you,' and he got real agitated and pointed down the hall, and said, 'It's that MF'er down there," Crum said during the hearing.
Upon questioning, Crum said Farra was referring to Thornsbury.
Farra agreed he and Thornsbury did not get along: at one point Farra lived with the niece of Thornsbury's wife, and the relationship didn't sit well with Thornsbury, Farra said.
Crum also told Farra he knew the sergeant and Miller were "investigating" him, Farra said. He also asked Farra if he knew "about this federal thing," apparently alluding to the federal investigation underway in Mingo County at the time.
Farra looked into allegations made against Crum and others in the months leading up to Crum taking charge, Hannah said during the hearing.
"He was part of an investigation on a drug ring that had a guy by the name of George White and Sheriff Crum's neighbor, and Eugene Crum's name came up in this investigation," Hannah said, according to the hearing transcript.
Hannah and Farra both stepped back from the word "investigation" later in the hearing. Hannah said Crum's name had just come up, and he thought they'd passed it along to State Police. Farra also said his name came up in conversations with people who wanted to provide tips, but he didn't want to classify the inquiry as an investigation.
Miller, later questioned in the hearing, also said there wasn't an open investigation into Crum at the time.
Hannah did not return several requests for comment on this story.
Hannah's allegation apparently didn't sit well with Crum. After Hannah made the remark, he said, "I guess you saw my emotions was kind of high.
"That's the first time that I'd ever heard and I'd like to say what I think but I'm going to, I'm just going to tell you that is totally a lie," Crum said earlier in the hearing.