In this morning’s ongoing corruption trial of former Buncombe County Sheriff Bobby Medford, a salesman for a confessed illegal video-poker operator said that he repeatedly gave bribes — sometimes as much as $3,000 — to Medford, along with legal donations to the Clerk of Court and the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners. The company also bribed the Haywood County Sheriff, he testified.
Jerry Pennington, a salesman for Henderson Amusements, whose owners (along with Pennington), have confessed to running an illegal-gambling operation and bribing public officials as part of their video-poker business, told jurors today that he had given envelopes filled with cash.
He said that after a meeting in Medford’s car in the parking lot of Tripp’s Restaurant in downtown Asheville, he’d been informed “that I needed to deal directly with him from now on,” instead of giving Medford bribes through former reserve Capt. Guy Penland (also on trial). Pennington — pausing occasionally to ask for more water for his cracking voice — detailed that he’d drop by Medford’s office every 2-3 months to hand over $2,000 to $3,000 in cash in sealed envelopes. He even gave Christmas “bonuses” to Medford, Penland and other deputies.
“We’d never talk about money, always about something else,” Pennington said. “I’d just hand the envelope over and he’d put it away.”
The most response he ever got from Medford, he said, was a curt “thank you,” but never in a circumstance where it would seem out of place in the rest of the conversation.
“Our business in Buncombe was doing well — we wanted to keep that going,” he said.
He also said he made smaller bribes to Penland, along with former Lts. Johnny Harrison and Ronnie “Butch” Davis (who have both taken plea deals, Harrison testified last week). He continued to give money to Penland after he stopped working with the sheriff’s office as a volunteer.
“He was like my best friend,” Pennington said of Penland. “He wasn’t getting paid a salary at the department, so we started paying him.”
That pay included $450 a week, reimbursement for gas and $500 for every store owner that Penland convinced to take the company’s machines. All this happened allegedly at a time when Penland (along with Harrison and later Davis) was responsible for registering the county’s video-poker machines.
But the company’s largesse didn’t end there. It also included legal donations, including $1,000 to Buncombe County Commissioners and $400 for a spot in Clerk of Court Bob Christy‘s golf tournament fundraiser. Pennington said the commissioner donations were “for raffle tickets or something.” He didn’t specify when the donations took place, but said that neither they or the clerk of court golf spot were related to video poker.
Bribes were also paid to the Haywood County Sheriff Tom Alexander, Pennington testified, in the amount of $100 per machine a month, totaling up to around $3,300. Alexander has not been indicted or charged with any crime at this time.
Pennington reviewed financial records for the court that referred to each payee in code: “G” or “Judge” for Penland, “J” for Harrison — and a series of the letter “X” for Medford.
Medford and Penland were both carefully reviewing the records with their attorneys as Pennington spoke.
The prosecution’s questioning will resume in the federal courthouse after the lunch recess.
— David Forbes, staff writer