The sentencing of ex-Sheriff Bobby Medford‘s deputies finished this morning, as a federal judge sentenced former reserve Capt. Guy Penland to five years in prison and former Lt. Ronnie “Butch” Davis to 40 months on corruption charges.
Penland (pictured), who is 77 years old, was tried and convicted alongside Medford in May. In a brief statement before the sentencing, he admitted his guilt and apologized for his actions.
“I take all the responsibility for what I did,” he said. “I hurt my family, I hurt my community and I hurt the law I love so much. I’ll never see 77 again, and a number of people that I didn’t want to hurt, that used to look up to me, never will again.”
Penland helped illegal video-poker operators scout locations in Buncombe County, using his position to convince them to put the machines in their stores. He even helped some operators evade community service. Medford was sentenced yesterday to 15 years in prison for his role in running the operation, while former Lt. Johnny Harrison, who took a plea deal and testified for the prosecution, got 30 months.
Penland’s attorney, Paul Bidwell, said that Penland had tried to cooperate and hoped for a plea deal, but didn’t believe he was guilty of all the charges against him.
“They [the prosecution] eventually decided that it would be better for their case to try Penland up there alongside Medford than have him testify against,” Bidwell said, adding that he didn’t fault them for doing so.
However, Assistant U.S. Attorney Corey Ellis told a different story. While noting that Penland had initially been cooperative, he said, “that changed. When he later came in it was like night and day. He gave evasive answers and the information we did get from him didn’t turn out to be of any use.”
Judge Thomas Ellis (no relation to the prosecutor) said that “not all the cards are in the hands of the government. You could have plead guilty to all the charges or just some of them and we would have had a trial on those.”
However, he added that in balancing Penland’s age, his role as a foot soldier in the conspiracy (“a functionary, not a manager,” the judge termed it) and the “severity of the charge — corruption of law enforcement is a cancer,” he believed that 60 months — or five years — will be “a just sentence.”
Penland hugged tearful family members as he made his way out of the court room.
Davis did not take a plea deal, but did plead guilty of his own accord to all counts before the trial began. While Ellis noted before issuing his sentence that “he could have decided to become part of the solution sooner,” he also noted that Davis had entered the conspiracy relatively late, taking over the role of falsifying video-poker-machine registration from Harrison, and had still plead guilty. He added that with good behavior Davis will probably serve 37 months, or just more than 3 years.
Both Davis and Penland were given until Oct. 17 to get their affairs in order before going to prison.
Other related figures in the illegal-gambling rings, including former Hot Dog King owner Demetre “Jimmy the Greek” Theodossis and former Medford political ally Jackie Shepherd will be sentenced later today. Late in the afternoon, Judge Ellis will also rule on the question of whether Medford can undergo a previously scheduled back operation before beginning his sentence.
— David Forbes, staff writer