Property used by local business owner and conservative activist Chad Nesbitt was the target of a Feb. 24 raid by state Alcohol Law Enforcement agents and the Buncombe County sheriff’s office’s SWAT team. ALE officials claim that illegal poker games that have been going on at the site. No arrests were made.
“We’re still going through the documents and evidence we got,” ALE District Supervisor Allen Page told Xpress. “Once we do that, we’ll put a package together, sit down with [District Attorney] Ron Moore and decide where to go from there.”
At press time, no arrests had been made, though Page said he expected some action to be taken during the next week.
Nesbitt is the founder of the Carolina Stompers, a conservative activist group that has sparked its share of controversy at both the state and local levels.
According to Page, the ALE conducted the raid in conjunction with the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office. But Deputy J.E. Allen, who handles incident reports for the sheriff’s office, said he had no record of the action. Lt. Ross Dillingham, head of the agency’s Criminal Investigations Division, later confirmed that 20 personnel were involved, including the SWAT team and Sheriff Van Duncan himself.
Nesbitt, meanwhile, called the allegations “totally false” and said the raid was “blatant intimidation” in response to the Stompers’ efforts to uncover alleged corruption in the Buncombe County district attorney’s office. Nesbitt’s grandfather, Jim Rhew, owns the property, but Nesbitt operates a convenience store on it. In addition, a two-story building on the property that formerly housed his Legends sports bar is now used for storage and the occasional poker game, but no money is involved, Nesbitt asserts.
The Stompers, he said, “held a public meeting the day before at Erwin High School highlighting gang activity and a lot of cases that are getting voluntarily dismissed,” adding that the group also criticized plea bargains offered by the district attorney’s office. “About 65 people showed up [for] that. Then the next night the ALE and sheriff’s deputies raid our place.”
Nesbitt said he’s turned over some of the evidence his group has uncovered to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Sunday-night poker games are held at the property, said Nesbitt, but they don’t involve cash. The warrant states that more than $3,500 in cash was confiscated during the raid, along with poker chips.
“It’s just some guys playing cards. Most of them are retired—big whoop. There was no money on the tables,” Nesbitt told Xpress. As for the cash, he maintains that it was just what the poker players had in their pockets—and it wasn’t being used for gambling.
Site under surveillance
According to the search warrant, the ALE had received complaints last July that the site was being used for gambling, including reports of video-poker machines on the second floor. The warrant also claims that an establishment licensed to sell liquor was being operated on the site up until November but was closed during what would normally be the busiest hours for a bar. Nesbitt said he shut down his sports bar in June of 2006 and notified ALE Agent Steven Myers—ironically, the same agent who filed for the warrant—at the time.
In the warrant application, Myers wrote that the ABC permits had been canceled last November, and that intermittent surveillance conducted since last July had noted 12 to 20 vehicles from as far away as Mount Airy and Bakersville, N.C., parked there on Sunday nights. He also said the ALE had received word that the site was being used for high-stakes poker games. According to the warrant, at least eight people were searched in addition to Nesbitt and Rhew.
Asked if the raid was connected to the ongoing investigation into illegal video-poker operations in Buncombe County under former Sheriff Bobby Medford, Page declined to comment.
Asked about the lack of documentation concerning the sheriff’s office’s involvement in the raid, Dillingham explained that there was no incident report because they were assisting another agency in carrying out a search warrant, rather than responding to specific call for assistance.
To view the search warrant, go to www.mountainx.com/xpressfiles.