Kanawha prosecutor unable to assist Mingo investigation
The Kanawha County prosecutor's office can't assist a secretary of state investigation into allegations of election law violations in Mingo County because of a conflict of interest, a state official said Thursday.
Philip Morrison, executive director of the West Virginia Prosecuting Attorneys Institute, said people within the office of Kanawha County Prosecutor Mark Plants have worked closely with many people in the Legislature on potential pieces of legislation.
Morrison said he didn't know the targets of any particular secretary of state investigation, but he said the Kanawha County prosecutor's office said there could be a conflict.
Instead, the Raleigh County prosecutor has agreed to work on the case. The Mingo County Circuit Court still needs to officially approve the pick before any special prosecutor can work on the case, Morrison said.
Mingo County Prosecutor Michael Sparks confirmed Wednesday he had asked the court to be disqualified from any secretary of state investigation.
"The West Virginia Secretary of State is currently investigating formal complaints of election law violations by certain Mingo County elected officials," Sparks wrote in the request for a special prosecuting attorney.
He did not name the officials but said he is "statutory counsel" - a legal representative according to the law - for some of the people being investigated.
Complaints alleging election law violation have been filed against Agriculture Commissioner Walt Helmick, Treasurer John Perdue, state Sen. Art Kirkendoll and state Senate candidate Mark Wills. The complaints are in connection to donations made by the official's campaigns to the Team Mingo 2012 political action committee.
The Team Mingo 2012 PAC is not officially affiliated with any political party in the county. Jake Glance, a spokesperson for the Secretary of State's Office, previously told the Daily Mail contributions from active campaign accounts to unaffiliated PACs are not legal.
In June, the PAC returned all of the funds contributed by the four candidate committees, according to campaign finance reports. Mingo County commissioners Greg "Hootie" Smith and John Mark Hubbard each contributed money to the PAC the day before it sent back the money to the Helmick, Perdue, Kirkendoll and Wills campaigns.
Other complaints have also been filed against House Majority Leader Harry Keith White and Delegate Justin Marcum, both Mingo County Democrats. Marcum also works as an assistant prosecuting attorney for Sparks.
Both Marcum and White recently told the Daily Mail the Secretary of State's Office cleared them of any wrongdoing.
The secretary of state is not permitted by the law to discuss investigations, office attorney Tim Leach told the Daily Mail Wednesday.
The office can refer cases to a prosecuting attorney if it thinks there was a criminal act, but Leach also said working with a prosecuting attorney doesn't necessarily mean charges will be filed. A prosecuting attorney can provide a "second opinion" about the law and the merits of an allegation, Glance told the Daily Mail Wednesday.
Morrison said Thursday he expected the Mingo County Circuit Court to approve the appointment of a special prosecutor on Monday. He wasn't sure who exactly in the Raleigh County prosecutor's office would work on the case.
Morrison originally asked Kanawha County prosecutors to help because they are geographically close to the Secretary of State's Office. After they said they could not work on the case, he looked for other options.
Morrison said he asked Raleigh County because it's still close to Charleston and Mingo County, and there are no legislative districts that touch both Mingo County and Raleigh County.