The Commonwealth Iconoclast

A site dedicated to covering issues relevant to the Commonwealth of Virginia, and nation at large, plus other interesting things too, as I see fit...

Friday, March 03, 2006

Indictments Rain on Appalachia's Centennial Parade!





I guess we knew it was coming. We have been hearing the rumblings for some time. But little did we know just how bad it would be for the little Town of Appalachia, Virginia.

The 300 page indictment handed down Thursday by a Wise County Grand Jury listed the Town of Appalachia’s Mayor/Manager Ben Ellis Cooper and thirteen co-conspirators, most of whom were previously considered “pillars of the community” in an elaborate and ongoing conspiracy to hijack the election process, achieve control of the governing body, give out important positions to friends and family, and to generally rip off the good citizens of Appalachia in a number of greed-driven scams.

Along the Honorable Mayor Ben Ellis Cooper, also indicted were Owen Anderson Sharrett, III, Owen Anderson Sharrett, Jr., Adam Brody Sherrett, Belinda Carolyn Sherrett, Betty Chloe Sharrett Bolling, Dennis Martin Sharrett, Kevin Lee Sharrett, Benjamin Grahm Surber, Don Huston Estridge, Betty Roxann Riddle, Krystal Shana Chandler Turner, Natasha Sherrett Mullins and Walter Mike Baber.

There are some indications that others may have been involved in some aspects of this conspiracy but only the named above were indicted.

Owen Anderson Sherrett, III is on the Appalachia Town Council, and Benjamin Grahm Surber is the head of the Town of Appalachia Police Department, receiving that important appointment after his cronies successfully stole the May 2004 election. Many of the co-conspirators are related to “Andy” Sherret, III including his brother, father, mother, great aunt, and a couple of uncles… a real family affair.

The others who were indicted were just cronies and “partners in crime” who perhaps found it handy and perhaps profitable to have “friends in high places.”

The whole 300 page indictment makes for interesting reading and reveals a certain “above the law” attitude that apparently blinded these individuals to the fact that what they were doing was wrong and to the incredible arrogance in believing that no one was noticing their gradual slide to dark side of local politics, vindictiveness, greed, megalomania and corruption.

The indictment states that “The plan, scheme and conspiracy to get these three people elected included committing numerous criminal acts…” Indeed the 14 indicted individuals collectively face 917 specific charges. The Honorable Mayor Cooper himself faces 244 felony counts.

And as we have recently speculated, those charges go far beyond the stealing of the election. We now learn of allegations of stealing from citizens, illegal drugs, and just raw abuse of power in acts of retribution against perceived enemies. The March 3rd edition of the Richmond Times Dispatch stated that “Once in power, they turned Town Hall into a fiefdom where they could hire family, steal from residents and settle personal scores…”.

I can see a movie coming out of this pitiful story…

But how did this happen in a sleepy little community like Appalachia? Answer: Apparently the whole mess came about largely through the forcefulness of one very ego driven and amoral Ben Ellis Cooper and a cadre of willing accomplices who saw an opportunity to rise above the law and enjoy the fruits of a variety of inappropriate and illegal scams.

The Roanoke Time provides some interesting background on Ben Ellis Cooper in their March 3rd edition in an article entitled “Critics says town’s mayor rules with an iron fist”. This article details the background of a retired military man originally from Appalachia who served most of his military career in the U.S. Air Force in Florida. Since retiring back to his home in Appalachia, the 63 year old Cooper has taken an interest in “civic affairs” and has quickly risen to the top of the Appalachia political power structure through his forceful “top-down” management style characterized by heavy-handedness, micromanagement, excessive control, clashes with colleagues and vindictiveness towards those who he perceives to be a threat to his “command.”

This systemic official corruption in the Town of Appalachia did not appear overnight. Indeed, most of the charges just announced are based on crimes committed two years ago or more. The investigation has been ongoing for at least a year. When exactly the problem started is anyone’s guess.

However, I would speculate that a slightly complacent public attitude to turn a blind eye to unseemly behavior by public officials may have provided the fertile ground for this kind of corruption to get a foot hold and grow. What started out as a slightly comical story of buying votes with “pork rinds” is, in retrospect, no laughing matter. Toleration or acquiescence to small digressions opens the door to larger offences and the kind of systemic official corruption we see here.

This is a tragic and expensive lesson, but perhaps a new and hopeful beginning for the Town of Appalachia. Therefore in honor of the Town's recent 100th Centinnial a parade just might be in order!


  • At 3/03/2006 9:22 PM, Blogger Tom James (aka Brave Hart) said…

    Three cheers for the grand jury!!!!

  • At 3/04/2006 8:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    You ar so very correct. This issue went from funny, to very sad, to very criminal in a matter of weeks.

    I hope others are paying attention.

    Sometimes prison is the only motivation for some to do what is right.

  • At 3/04/2006 9:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Unfortunately, there are people like Cooper in politics in many other communities. There are signs to look for. But the "Boss Hog" attitude is a clear tip-off that there are going to be problems.

  • At 3/05/2006 8:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    This article suggests that this whole problem was because of Ben Cooper. It wasn't. There was a whole gang of greedy, vindictive and arrogant individuals who thought they were above the law and entitled.

    Perhaps some of these people gave the impression that they were respectable "pillars of the community" but they were just crooks thinking about what they personally could get out of the deal.

    Every gang needs a boss. Cooper's ego made him an appropriate fit for the job. That's all.

    So don't forget about the others. And remember, that those indicted are not the only ones who played along with this conspiracy for fun and profit.

  • At 3/08/2006 10:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    It is interesting to read today's news. Good old boy Ben Cooper is not stepping down as Mayor and is bracing for a spirited fight. Maybe he and his buddies are planning to ordered up an 18 wheeler full of pork rinds to distribute to the prospective jury pool. Buy an election, buy a trial. What's the difference? It ain't over till it is over.

  • At 3/08/2006 12:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    These guys don't care about their fellow citizens. They just get off on the idea of being in charge of everything. If they had an ounce of concern for their community they would step down. But I don't look for that to happen.

  • At 12/01/2006 3:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    This goes on all the time in NH where the 'clique' will terrorize you if you dare vote the wrong way. The AG does nothing about it.

    I wonder why no where on the web can I find their party affiliation. Am I to assume they are southern democrats???

    The media is very careful not to use the words 'democrat' and 'scandal' in the same sentence.


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