EYEWITNESS LOCAL NEWSMingo County No Stranger To Corruption Scandals
from Eyewitness News Online
Reported by: Kennie Bass
Web Producer: Heath Harrison
Reported: Aug. 15, 2013 8:49 PM EDT
Updated: Aug. 15, 2013 11:26 PM EDT
Williamson , Mingo County , West Virginia
Southern West Virginia has a long, sordid history of corruption, with Mingo County taking center stage more than once.
In May 1986, an 18-month investigation into Mingo County crime led to 20 arrests on a variety of charges.
From drug dealing to jury tampering to obstruction of justice, the alleged offenses led to convictions which eventually sent more than 70 people to prison.
Wig and Cooney Preece were at the center of the scandal. He was Kermit's fire chief. She was the family matriarch. Together, they ran a drug empire estimated to be worth a $1 million a year. Additionally, they were operating an arson-for insurance-money scheme, setting buildings and homes across the region ablaze.
But they were far from alone. The guilty included several Preece children, police officers, politicians, bus drivers and school board members.
Democratic Party power players Johnnie Owens and Larry Hamrick were caught in the web, convicted of political misdeeds, which included selling the Mingo County Sheriff's office. Owens was sentenced to 14 years in jail. Hamrick was sentenced for 12 years.
Federal investigators were quoted as saying they had never seen the level of political corruption and crime they uncovered in Mingo County.
At the time of the arrests, there was optimism that things would get better. But there were also fears that the culture of corruption was so deeply ingrained that it would be just a matter of time before Mingo County would be in the spotlight again.
When the books were closed on the Mingo investigation, there were more than 70 convictions in federal and state court. Powerful figures throughout the county spent years in jail.
In a state which has seen many political scandals, it remains one of the biggest and most notorious.
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