Former Mingo Co. judge Thornsbury scheduled for release 17 months early

By Chris Dickerson | Jun 30, 2016

CHARLESTON – A former Mingo County judge who was sentenced to more than four years in federal prison for corruption seemingly will be released from prison early.

Michael Thornsbury, who was sentenced to 50 months in June 2014 on conspiracy charges, is being transferred to a halfway house in October, according to Michael Callaghan, the attorney who represented Thornsbury in the federal trial. He currently is serving time at FPC Pensacola, a minimum security federal prison camp in Florida.

Also, information on the federal Bureau of Prisons website indicates Thornsbury’s release date is scheduled for March 15, 2017. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Charleston couldn’t provide any further information.

The March 2017 release date would mean Thornsbury will have served 33 months upon release.

Federal prison guidelines indicate a prisoner can have his sentenced reduced by up to 15 percent with good behavior. Fifteen percent of 50 months is 7.5 months.

But, there are two other ways for a prisoner to receive an earlier release.

One is a motion from federal prosecutors requesting it for the prisoner’s cooperation with an investigation. Court records don’t show such a document existing in the Thornsbury case.

The other way is the successful completion of a federal prison drug treatment program called the Residential Drug Abuse Program. Officials at FPC Pensacola say Thornsbury completed that program. To enter that program, a prisoner must have a substance abuse problem that meets American Psychiatric Association guidelines.

RDAP is “an intensive six-month, 500-hour substance abuse rehabilitation program … offered to federal prisoners who qualify and voluntarily elect to enroll.”

“Upon successful completion of the program, prisoners who meet the necessary criteria are eligible for up to a 12-month reduction of their sentence and possibly six months in a halfway house depending on how many months they have left on their sentence. … The program is open to inmates with a documented history of substance abuse in the 12-month period prior to arrest for the sentence they are currently serving.”

Johnston also sentenced Thornsbury to three years of supervised release that typically includes drug screenings. But Johnston had suspended the drug testing requirements for Thornsbury, saying he poses a low risk for future substance abuse. 

Federal officials said Thornsbury and other Mingo County officials – including former Mingo County Prosecuting Attorney Michael Sparks and former Mingo County Commissioner David Baisden – conspired to keep a local businessman from talking to the FBI about prescription pain medication and illegal campaign contributions received by Mingo County Sheriff Eugene Crum. Crum was shot and killed in a Williamson parking lot in 2013.

"Mr. Thornsbury's conduct was shocking and appalling," former U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said after sentencing. "It was worthy of a stiff sentence. I'd like to see this whole episode be a call to action for all of us to make sure that this 'Bogg Hogg' style of politics is a thing of the past – because it simply can't be a part of our future."

During the 2014 sentencing hearing, Judge Thomas Johnston compared Thornsbury's abuses of office to actions that happen in third world countries.

Thornsbury was Mingo County’s only circuit judge for 17 years. Since he was implicated in the corruption charges, Thornsbury has been named in a handful of civil lawsuits in federal and state courts.

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