A federal judge sentenced former Buncombe County Sheriff Bobby Medford to 180 months — or about 15 years — in prison on corruption and extortion charges this afternoon.
Former Lt. Johnny Harrison was sentenced to 30 months on similar charges, getting a much lighter sentence for cooperating with prosecutors and offering key testimony against Medford at the trial.
The sentence came after a day of objections (97 in all) from defense attorney Stephen Lindsay. Judge Thomas Ellis overruled many of the objections and said that he believed Lindsay was re-arguing points he tried to make in the May trial that saw Medford convicted on 10 counts related to taking bribes from illegal video-poker operators in return for allowing their businesses to operate.
Lindsay also argued that due to Medford’s poor health, he should receive a reduced sentence, and the attorney presented a letter from people in the county praising Medford and petitioning the court to reduce his sentence.
Ellis said he acknowledged Medford’s health situation and his support in the community, but the judge compared corruption to “a cancer on our society” and said the sentence needed to be harsh.
“This [sentence] must stand like a bright beacon, warning others that if they think of abusing their office for personal gain, that there will be serious consequences,” Ellis said. In remarks to Medford, he told the former sheriff that “You have betrayed the trust conferred on you. … You abused that power in order to enrich yourself.”
Medford could be let out in about 12-and-a-half years for good behavior, but there is no parole in the federal-prison system. The powerful nature of Medford’s office and what Ellis decided were lies the former sheriff told on the stand during his own testimony all helped to boost the time of the sentence. Ellis said Medford will likely be held in Butner Federal Correctional Complex, located north of Durham.
Meanwhile, Harrison’s sentence, Ellis noted, is “remarkably lenient, but it takes into account your cooperation. You promptly admitted responsibility — and your assistance has been very substantial.”
Harrison gave a brief statement before the sentence was ready, talking about his extensive law-enforcement experience and his regret for his actions.
“I’ve done it all — I’m sorry for my actions,” a wheelchair-bound Harrison told the court as he leaned forward to speak into a microphone. “I messed it all up. I’ve done what I could to help, to be truthful.”
Prosecutor Richard Edwards noted that Harrison’s help is ongoing, and shook his hand as he exited the courtroom, wishing him good luck.
Medford later left the courtroom after Ellis chose to continue a hearing on whether or not he’ll be allowed to have back surgery before entering the federal prison system. Physically supported by friends due to ongoing back pain, he briefly talked to reporters before lighting a cigarette, though he wouldn’t answer questions on whether or not he would appeal.
Medford has 10 days to decide if he will appeal.
Sentencing hearings for two of Medford’s former deputies — former reserve Capt. Guy Penland, who was tried and convicted alongside Medford, and former Lt. Ronnie “Butch” Davis, who plead guilty — will begin tomorrow morning. (See updates this week at www.mountainx.com.)
— David Forbes