Harrison latest to plead guilty in gambing case

John “Johnny” Harrison, a former Buncombe County deputy under Sheriff Bobby Medford, pleaded guilty Wednesday to conspirancy to commit extortion. Harrison’s is the latest guilty plea in a wide-ranging federal investigation that has painted a picture of corruption across Western North Carolina.

Harrison pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit extortion, which federal prosecutors say in court documents was accomplished three ways: through golf tournaments that generated money; through direct demands of cash from video poker machine operators; and by working on behalf of video poker machine operators and taking cash for convincing store owners to place machines in their businesses.

The former lieutenant faces a $250,000 fine and up to 20 years in prison. He’s yet to be sentenced. In his plea deal, Harrison has agreed to cooperate with the government.

Harrison’s plea leaves Medford, former Lt. Ronnie Eugene “Butch” Davis and former reserve Capt. Guy Kenneth Penland as the government’s final targets in the Medford case. The three face a variety of charges relating to an illegal gambling operation. Medford’s trial is scheduled for March 25.

Here’s a look at other recent guilty pleas:

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 Weaverville-based Western Amusement Inc., which is owned by Jackie Shepherd. Shepherd donated money to Medford’s campaign and faces federal prosecution along with his son and stepson.

Click here to read more about Theodossis.

Click here to read more about Bridges and the Comers.

See next Wednesday’s Mountain Xpress for more on this story.

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