Davis, Shepherd plead guilty in illegal gambling case

Ronnie Eugene “Butch” Davis and Jack Willis “Jackie” Shepherd entered plea agreements in federal court Friday and explained their involvement in an illegal gambling operation. The pleas are the latest in the federal government’s wide-ranging investigation into illegal gambling involving video poker machines in Western North Carolina, a case that has netted video poker machine owners and law enforcement officers.

Davis, 60, served as a lieutenant under former Buncombe County Sheriff Bobby Medford. Shepherd was a political supporter of Medford’s and donated cash to his campaign. Arrested and charged last December, Medford also faces charges in connection with illegal gambling and is scheduled to go on trial March 25 with his former reserve Capt. Guy Kenneth Penland.

Davis pleaded guilty to 11 counts, including conspiracy to commit mail fraud and conspiracy to manage and direct an illegal gambling business involving video poker machines. The charges carry varying fines and prison time, but several call for a fine of not more than $250,000 and up to 20 years in prison.

Davis admitted that he knew illegal cash pay-outs were being made and that he didn’t enforce the law in that regard, even though his job under Medford in 2005 was overseeing video poker machine operators in the county as required by state law, according to the court papers.

The Sheriff’s Department was required to keep records of the machines, the owners and operators. Businesses were allowed to have up to three machines under state law and could pay winners no more than $10 in store merchandise. The state outlawed video poker machines last summer.

Davis said he received numerous complaints concerning the illegal pay-outs, specifically discussed them with Medford “and Medford advised Davis that the department did not have the necessary resources to attempt to enforce this provision of the law,” according to the court records.

Davis said in his plea agreement that he never personally sought money from video poker machine operators, but was given cash on several occasions by machine operators. Davis also said that Medford told him to contact various poker machine operators and tell them that Medford needed to see them. “Davis knows these operators knew that Medford was hereby asking for money; however, Davis never himself asked any video poker machine operators for money,” the court documents said.

Davis also admitted to helping funnel cash from two golf tournaments organized for Medford’s re-election campaign in 2006 directly to Medford. “It was Davis’ understanding that these golf tournaments were being held as a way to raise money to support Sheriff Medford’s reelection campaign; however, Davis soon learned that some of the monies raised through the auspices of these golf tournaments were being funneled to Medford personally. The reason Davis knows this is that he himself on multiple occasions gave cash money which was raised through the auspices of these golf tournaments to Sheriff Medford in cash with no accounting being made to the campaign to the best of Davis’ knowledge,” according to the court records.

Davis sometimes took checks to have them cashed at an Exxon station on Leicester Highway, then gave the cash to former Capt. Tracy Bridges, who bought money orders and filled in fictitious names, (names of people unrelated to who had given the money), the court records state.

In one other detail in his plea agreement, Davis said he received a favorable rate from a Maryville, Tenn., company to travel to Reno, Nevada to gamble and that he invited Medford to go along. Medford accepted, Davis said.

Shepherd, in his plea agreement, admitted to operating video poker machines illegally from 2000 to 2007 in Buncombe and Madison counties. Shepherd is the owner of Western Amusement Inc. Shepherd’s business would make cash pay-outs or direct winners to take their pay-out ticket to the Cherokee Trading Post, which he owned, where an employee would make a pay-out, according to the court papers.

Shepherd agreed to forfeit $684,854 that represented proceeds from the illegal gambling operation, money that included $33,053 seized in a raid in June 2007, the court papers said. He agreed to surrender property on Old Mars Hill Highway and Reems Creek Road in Weaverville, as well as Billy Jack’s Flea Market in Madison County. And he forfeited a 2005 Chevy Silverado pick-up and a 2006 Dodge Ram pick-up, as well as 25 video poker machines seized in Buncombe and Madison Counties in the June 2007 raid.

Federal charges against Shepherd’s son and stepson were dropped.

Here’s a look at other recent guilty pleas in the government’s illegal gambling case:

-On Feb. 27, former Buncombe County Sheriff’s Lt. John “Johnny” Harrison agreed to a plea deal and confessed to being part of an extortion operation. Harrison was the first of three deputies who served under former Sheriff Bobby Medford to cop a plea, though several Medford allies have signed such deals in the last few weeks.

Demetre Theodossis, the owner of a group of Hot Dog King restaurants, pleaded guilty to charges of illegal gambling, fraud and false statements.

-Former Sheriff’s Department Capt. Tracy Keith Bridges pleaded guilty to converting cash from video poker operators into money orders for Medford’s campaign account.

-In a separate but related case, Kerry Lee Comer and his brother, Irvin Keith Comer, pleaded guilty to running an illegal gambling business as part of the Shepherd’s Western Amusement Inc.

Click here to read more about Theodossis.

Click here to read more about Bridges and the Comers.

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