This morning in the corruption trial of former Buncombe County Sheriff Bobby Medford, a convenience-store owner and video-poker operator, as well as a retired bookie, both testified that they bribed Medford to continue their illegal operations.
Alvin Ledford, 84, who peered through thick glasses and is so hard of hearing that that both prosecutors and defense attorneys had to come directly up to the witness stand to question him, said that he started paying Medford $2,000 every five to six weeks to continue operating his gambling house, which included sports betting and poker games.
“If I wanted to continue to operate, when he asked for money, I had to give it to him,” Ledford told the court. He said he would initially give the money to fellow gambling operator “Papa Jack” O’Leary to give to Medford, but later would accompany O’Leary to meet Medford at the Waffle House on Airport Road, where he’d pass over the cash in an envelope. Waffle House waitress Inez McGinnis testified that she’d seen Medford meet Ledford at the restaurant, but never directly seen money change hands. Ledford was convicted on gambling charges in 1994 and served time in federal prison after being busted by Charlie Long, Medford’s predecessor in the sheriff’s office. Medford raided his establishment once.
Ledford also said that one of Medford’s deputies pushed video-poker machines on him, something he was reluctant to accept. “I didn’t like video-poker machines, they’re highway robbery,” he said. He ended up taking them toward the end of his career (he retired in 2006) after the deputy told him he’d give back $1,000 in cash he’d handed the deputy if he did. Ledford said he never got the money back.
“He told me I should take the video-poker machines because they’re legal,” he said with a hoarse chuckle.
Imram Alam, a Pakistani immigrant who ran 17 gas stations and convenience stores, said he had illegal video-poker machines at seven of them and that he gave money directly to Medford twice. Once, in Medford’s office, he gave the sheriff $2,000 in a brown paper bag along with a carton of Salem Lights — Medford’s favorite brand of cigarette, he added. The other time, he gave $6,000 to former Lt. Johnny Harrison (who testified last week and has taken a plea deal), who then gave half to Medford when the three of them met in the parking lot of the Westgate Shopping Center. He pointed out an image, provided by prosecutors, of the check he’d cashed to get the $6,000.
On that occasion, he said, the bribe was paid so that Medford would authorize Alam to switch video-poker companies after a dispute with Henderson Amusements, violating Medford’s usual rule that didn’t allow store owners to switch to a different company. Alam accepted a plea deal from the government and was sentenced last week to 21 months in prison, the loss of three of his convenience stores and $1.67 million in fines.
He also routinely wrote checks to Medford’s golf tournaments. One time, when he gave $200, he said reserve Capt. Guy Penland (on trial along with Medford), whom he usually dealt with, grew visibly upset. When Alam said he couldn’t spare more at the time, he said Penland left and he soon received a call from Barron Henderson of Henderson Amusements, who was then supplying Alam’s machines.
“He [Henderson] said, ‘Give them what they need — you can’t make them mad,’” Alam recalled.
Alam said that while he’d had video-poker machines a few weeks before he met Penland, the reserve captain “made me feel comfortable” about giving cash payouts from the video-poker machines — and once pushed him to put more machines (from Henderson) into a store than he thought it could physically accomodate. He added that they settled on putting one machine in a backroom.
“He said stores all over the county were doing this [paying out cash from the machines],” Alam testified. “He said I could make money as long as I knew people.”
— David Forbes, staff writer