On Feb. 24, state Alcohol Law Enforcement agents carried out a raid on property maintained by business owner and conservative activist Chad Nesbitt, which ALE officials claim targeted illegal poker games that have been going at the site. No arrests were made — and the investigation continues.
“We’re still going through the documents and evidence we got,” ALE District Supervisor Allen Page told Xpress. “Once we do that, we’ll put a package together, sit down with [District Attorney] Ron Moore and decide where to go from there.”
Page also said that the ALE had conducted the raid in conjunction with the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office, which keeps a record of such an occurrence if it involves deputies. However, Deputy J.E. Allen, who handles incident reports for the Sherriff’s office, had no record of the raid.
Nesbitt called the allegations “totally false” and said that the raid was “blatant intimidation,” in response to efforts to uncover alleged corruption in the Buncombe County District Attorney’s office. His grandfather, Jim Rhew, owns the property, but Nesbitt maintains a convenience store on it, along with the two-story building that was the site of his now defunct Legends sports bar.
“We’d held a public meeting the day before at Erwin High School highlighting gang activity and a lot of cases that are getting voluntarily dismissed,” Nesbitt said, adding that they also criticized plea deals offered by the District Attorney’s Office. “About 65 people showed up to that. Then the next night the ALE and Sheriff’s deputies raid our place.”
Nesbitt said he’s given some of the evidence the group has uncovered to the U.S. Department of Justice.
He said that Sunday night poker games do go on at the location, but that they don’t involve cash. The warrant claims that over $3,500 in cash was confiscated on the site, along with poker chips.
“It’s just some guys playing cards, most of them are retired — big whoop. There was no money on the tables,” he told Xpress. Nesbitt maintains that the cash was just what the poker players had in their pockets — and wasn’t being used for gambling.
On the search warrant for the raid, ALE claims that it received complaints in July that the site was being used for gambling, including reports of video poker machines on the second floor. The search warrant also claims that an ABC establishment was being operated on the site. Nesbitt said he had closed down his bar in June of 2006, and had notified ALE Agent Steven Myers, who was, ironically, the agent filing for the warrant.
Myers claimed in the warrant application that the ABC permits were cancelled last November, that agents had surveilled the site intermittently since last July and had seen 12 to 20 vehicles from as far away as Mount Airy and Bakersville parked there on Sunday nights. He also said that they had received word, including from an unidentified informant, that the site was being used for high-stakes poker games. According to the warrant, at least eight other people aside from Nesbitt and Rhew were searched.
Page declined to comment when asked if the investigation is tied to investigations into video poker operations in Buncombe County.
— David Forbes, staff writer