Fourth Mingo County official pleads guilty
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Another former leader of a Mingo County courtroom admitted breaking the law Monday, becoming the fourth official to plead guilty to federal charges in recent weeks.
Ex-Magistrate Dallas "Big Dal" Toler, 45, pleaded guilty to a charge of knowingly helping a person on probation for a felony register and vote in the 2012 election. It's illegal for someone on probation for a felony to vote in West Virginia.
Toler -- who told the Daily Mail in August he is 6 foot 4 inches tall and weighs 300 pounds -- appeared Monday morning in a Charleston hearing before U.S. District Judge Thomas Johnston. Assistant U.S. attorneys Steve Ruby and Haley Bunn represented the government.
After the brief hearing, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said the people of Mingo County are tired of the ongoing "shenanigans" of elected leaders.
"Once again in this investigation, we have a judge who is engaged in corruption," Goodwin said, referencing ex-Mingo Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury.
"This time, corruption of the electoral process, so that Mr. Toler and his cohorts could keep their positions of power."
Thornsbury recently pleaded guilty to a federal conspiracy charge. He admitted to trying to help thwart an FBI investigation into alleged drug activity by since-slain Sheriff Eugene Crum.
Former Mingo County Prosecutor Michael Sparks also pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge in connection to his role in the scheme. Although ex-commissioner Dave Baisden allegedly also participated, he pleaded guilty to his attempts to force the county tire provider to give him a discount on tires for his personal vehicle.
Thornsbury, Sparks, Crum, Baisden, Toler and others all worked together as members of the Democratic political faction "Team Mingo."
Federal prosecutors mention the political group in their explanation of what led to Toler's decision to knowingly register a felon to vote.
With many more Democrats registered to vote in Mingo County, races have historically been decided during primary elections. Leading up to the 2012 primary, a group of Democrats ran together as a political group known as "Team Mingo."
The slate expected close races, according to the stipulation of facts included in Toler's plea agreement.
With this expectation, members of the faction "mounted a drive to identify potential voters who were expected to support Team Mingo's candidates and to register and persuade as many of those people as possible to vote in the 2012 primary election," read documents filed in federal court.
In April of 2012, Toler met a man living at one of his rental properties, according to his plea agreement.
Toler and his wife, Dollie, derived part of their income from a contract with the Mingo County Housing Authority for rentals of subsidized housing, according to the 2013 financial disclosure Dallas Toler filed with the state Ethics Commission. The 2012 filing states the pair earned money from "Dallas and Dollie Toler Rentals."
No such business is listed on the Secretary of State's website. Toler has a leadership role in several other businesses, including "Fat Boys Development, Inc.," "Big D's Preowned Autos LLC" and "TMK Business Services," according to the Secretary of State's website.
Prosecutors say there was no doubt Toler knew the man was on probation for a felony. Toler learned about the situation during their first meeting, and ran into the man at the Mingo County courthouse while he was on his way to provide a urine sample as a condition of his probation, according to the plea agreement.
Despite this knowledge, Toler "procured the completion and submission" of a voter application to register as a voter in the name of the man on probation, federal prosecutors say. The application didn't indicate the man was on probation. The application was processed, and the man eventually voted in the 2012 primary.
The documents don't name the probationer. After the hearing Goodwin said Toler is "the only one who's being prosecuted with respect to this incident."
Toler spoke little during the hearing, at times stroking his beard or running a hand over his bald head. He declined comment while leaving the federal courthouse.
His attorney, Joseph Ferrell of Huntington, refused comment on the case.
Dollie Toler spoke briefly outside the courthouse before leaving with her husband. She said the family is ready to move on, and commended Ruby on his professionalism.
Toler faces up to 5 years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine. He's scheduled for sentencing in March 2014.
While this is the first time the "Team Mingo" faction played a central role in recent federal prosecutions of county leaders, a related political action committee also faced recent scrutiny.
Leading up to the 2012 primary the "Team Mingo 2012" PAC received $3,700 in "improper contributions" from the campaigns of four different political candidates. State code doesn't allow active candidate campaign committees to make donations to PACs not affiliated with the county political party.
State code doesn't prohibit the PAC from accepting contributions made improperly though, an attorney for the Secretary of State's office wrote in a letter to Mingo County Commissioner Greg "Hootie" Smith, the PAC's treasurer.
The PAC returned the contributions to the campaigns of Agriculture Commissioner Walt Helmick, Treasurer John Perdue, state Sen. Art Kirkendoll and state Senate candidate Mark Wills less than two weeks after the Daily Mail originally reported on the matter.
The Secretary of State's Office referred the case to Raleigh County Prosecutor Kristen Keller's office. She recently told the Daily Mail she was still reviewing the case.
Members of the other Democratic faction in the county also accused Toler of intimidation immediately following the 2012 primary election, according to Daily Mail archives.
Toler denied intimidating anyone, and Sparks said he hadn't investigated the allegations.
Although he downplayed the allegations as "embellished and exaggerated," Sparks told the Daily Mail at the time, "Politics is a contact sport in Mingo County."
Toler is the last of the four former county officials to plead guilty. No other officials currently face any federal charges, but Goodwin said the case remains open. He also said the office isn't prepared to say whether the investigation has extended beyond Mingo County.
Thornsbury and Baisden are scheduled for sentencing in January. Sparks' sentencing is scheduled for February.