In the federal corruption trial of former Buncombe County Sheriff Bobby Medford, a former captain testified that after hearing concerns from his campaign chair about cash being improperly turned into money orders, Medford responded, “F*ck him. We’ll keep doing what we’re doing.”
Tracy Keith Bridges, who used to run the Sheriff’s Office’s internal-affairs division and has pled guilty to money laundering, said that he’d take cash given to Medford’s 2006 re-election campaign and turn it into money orders so it could skirt campaign-finance laws. Former Lt. Ronnie “Butch” Davis (who’s also taken a plea deal) would then provide Bridges with a list of campaign donors whose names, he testified, would be falsely placed on the money orders.
Bridges testified that during a meeting with Medford, Bridges and Sharon Stewart (Medford’s office manager and former personal secretary), that David Brown, Medford’s campaign chair, had expressed concerns about cash being changed into money orders. Bridges testified that Medford rebuked Bridges during the meeting and told him to stop the practice.
“I got the feeling he was putting on a show,” Bridges told the courtroom. After Brown left the office, Bridges said, Medford bluntly told him matters would continue as before.
Bridges also testified that occasionally Medford would ask for cash out of the amounts — some of it coming from illegal video-poker operators — he was converting into money orders, usually in increments of $1,000, $700 or $500. Medford warned Bridges not to tell Davis, according to Bridges’ testimony.
Bridges added that he knew what he was doing was illegal, but was afraid.
“I was scared for my job,” Bridges told the court. “I wanted to keep being employed there.”
Medford also once had him deposit $500 cash in the account of Medford’s girlfriend, Judi Bell, Bridges said. Prosecutors presented bank records showing the deposit the same day, along with a check for the same amount to Harrah’s Cherokee Casino, as part of their case that Medford used much of the money from bribes to fund his legal-gambling habit (he reportedly had over $50,000 in gambling losses in 2006).
Before Bridges, Jenny Watts, who works at Premier Federal Credit Union, testified that the couple had collective cash deposits of $113,694 above and beyond their salaries from 2002 to 2006. Defense attorney Stephen Lindsay noted that Medford had access to other forms of money, such as loans, a credit card or money from other banks. Watts said that Medford would occasionally take out loans ranging from a few hundred dollars to $4,000.
Earlier that morning, video-poker operator Charles McBennett, who has confessed to operating 30 video-poker machines (all making illegal cash payouts) in the county, said he bribed Medford on two occasions.
Once, just before Medford underwent back surgery, McBennett stated that former Lt. Johnny Harrison (who has taken a plea deal and testified last week) brought McBennett to Medford’s office, where McBennett gave Medford a small cross that said “God watches over you,” along with $5,000 in cash.
The bribe, McBennett said, was to get information about his competitors so that he could get any dissatisfied store owners to switch to his company. In an effort to prevent turf wars, Medford usually didn’t allow such changes.
McBennett said that former reserve Capt. Guy Penland (on trial along with Medford) even gave him the name of one operator particularly disliked by the sheriff and encouraged him to move in on the other man’s territory.
Another time, McBennett testified, he and Harrison made a trip to Medford’s Weaverville apartment shortly after the sheriff’s surgery. That time too, he bought along $5,000, but Harrison ended up with $2,000 of it.
“He [Harrison] said, ‘Don’t give him all that,’” McBennett recalled.
During the afternoon, the prosecution successfully entered a video recording as evidence, over the defense’s objections. In the video, the prosecution claimed, current Rutherford County Sheriff Jack Conner and John Parker meet with Jamie Henderson of Henderson Amusements, the largest single illegal video-poker operator in Buncombe, and Jeff Childers, a salesman for Henderson in the Rutherford area.
Parker, a former Rutherford County deputy, was at that time assisting the FBI in investigating illegal gambling, and the meeting was part of a sting operation (Conners also participated).
The video, which will be shown to jurors tomorrow, depicts Henderson and Childers giving money to Conner and reassuring him that other sheriffs in the region are involved. While Medford had been defeated in his bid for re-election by the time the video was recorded, in December 2006, he is mentioned as one of the recipients of Henderson bribes.
The defense contested that the video involves a different criminal conspiracy than the one allegedly involving Medford — and was thus inadmissable. The prosecution shot back that Henderson’s conspiracy reached across the whole region, and that Medford’s piece of it, while the focus of this trial, was not separate from the larger operation.
Judge Tim Ellis found the prosecution’s argument convincing.
“The law clearly shows that a participant in a conspiracy doesn’t have to be aware of the full extent of it ,” Ellis said.
U.S. Attorney Gretchen Shappert (whose district includes the Charlotte area), the supervisor of Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Edwards, the case’s lead prosecutor, briefly stopped by to watch the proceedings. Medford pored over the evidence presented, while occasionally leaning over to whisper to defense attorney Victoria Jayne
The trial resumes tomorrow at 9 a.m.
— David Forbes, staff writer