Medford allowed to have surgery before incarceration; other key players sentenced

Former Buncombe County Sheriff Bobby Medford will be required to begin serving his 15-year federal-prison sentence beginning on Oct. 28, two weeks after back surgery to relieve debilitating lower-back pain, U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Ellis ruled Tuesday afternoon.

Ellis made the ruling after reviewing a letter from Medford’s doctor. Ellis said he had been worried that Medford’s doctor was “a buddy” who would continue to recommend extra time for Medford to convalesce. Ellis made it clear that “most of his convalescence, after 10 days to two weeks, will be done in the Bureau of Prisons.”

Stephen Lindsay, one of Medford’s attorney, said he planned to appeal Medford’s sentence. Medford’s attorneys have 10 days to file the paperwork.

The judge’s ruling came at the end of a full day in court, which included sentences being handed down to a string of key figures in the federal government’s wide-ranging case against local law-enforcement officials and businessmen involved in public corruption and the illegal operation of video-poker machines. Comments from Ellis and government attorneys indicate that the government continues to aggressively pursue its case against other defendants.

Here’s a look at the men sentenced in court Tuesday afternoon:

Jackie Shepherd: Shepherd, owner of Western Amusements, owned and operated convenience stores in Buncombe and Madison counties and provided Medford with campaign cash, clothes and a speech coach to help him win his first election as sheriff in 1992. Shepherd cooperated with the government after a June 2007 raid on his businesses and testified in court against Medford.

When given the chance to address the court, Shepherd said he had earlier apologized to his family and wanted to apologize to the court. “Most of all, I ‘d like to apologize to the victims” — the people who played the illegal video poker machines — he said.

Ellis asked Shepherd to tell him why he did what he did, noting that “it’s important that you understand why you did what you did.” Shepherd began explaining that he was trying to help his son, and Ellis interrupted him. “I think the simple word was greed,” the judge said.

Shepherd was convicted on one count of conducting an illegal-gambling business. Ellis ordered Shepherd to perform 25 hours of community service and urged him to talk to young people about the importance of choosing right from wrong. “You write the pages of your own life story. You’ve written good pages and you’ve written bad pages,” and there are consequences for the bad, Ellis said.

In addition to the community service, Ellis ordered Shepherd to serve four months in a half-way house, which the government refers to as “community confinement.” He was placed on two years of probation and order to make good on forfeiting property valued at more than $684,000. Shepherd is also in the process of paying about $350,000 in back taxes, his attorney, Greg Newman, told the court.

Jimmy “The Greek” Theodossis: Theodossis owned a string of Hot Dog King restaurants in Asheville, placed illegal video-poker machines in those stores and testified during Medford’s trial that he paid Medford $1,000 a month to look the other way. In court Tuesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Edwards described Theodossis as the first “insider” to cooperate with the government. In debriefings, Theodossis explained how deals were made to bring machines into stores and how payments were made directly to Medford. That information was crucial to leading the government to get other suspects to confess, Edwards said.

Theodossis declined to speak when offered the chance by Judge Ellis. But Theodossis’ attorney, Sean Devereaux, told the judge that after government agents raided Theodossis’ home and discovered $1.7 million in cash, he fully cooperated with authorities. “His cooperation was pretty incredible,” Devereaux said.

Devereaux said that Theodossis, who is 58, came to the United States in 1973. Theodossis was serving in the Greek navy and jumped ship in Jersey City to come and work in the United States. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1979 and came to Asheville in 1983, where he worked hard to be a success in the restaurant business, Devereaux said.

Judge Ellis noted that Theodossis “has lived the American dream.” Ellis added that “one of the reasons we have the kind of opportunity we have in this country is the rule of law,” and that in this country, “lying to the government is a serious crime.”

Theodossis was convicted on one count of conducting an illegal-gambling business, one count of making a false statement on an individual tax return and one count of making a false statement on a corporate tax return. Devereaux said Theodossis had already paid $2.7 million in forfeiture money and faced another $1.5 million in tax liability.

Ellis sentenced Theodossis to one month in federal prison, which could be served in the Buncombe County Detention Center, and three years of supervised release. He ordered Theodossis to serve eight months in a half-way house and make good on his back taxes.

Charles McBennett Sr.: In his address to the court, McBennett told Judge Ellis that his involvement in illegal gambling erased a life of hard work. Judge Ellis termed McBennett’s statement one of the most eloquent and genuine he’d heard.

McBennett said he grew up in an orphanage and began working at age 7 in a dairy for 75 cents a weekend. He said he later learned to be a barber and earned money cutting hair. At age 16 and with no college education, he said, he started working at a textile plant as an hourly worker and worked his way up to vice president.

“When I got mixed up in this video poker” in 2005, “I erased it all,” he told the judge. “I’m very sorry.”

Ellis said he believed that McBennett had accepted responsibility for what he’d done and urged him to communicate his story to young people and teach them to choose right from wrong early in life so they don’t become “seduced by greed and temptation of the moment.”

McBennett was convicted on one count of operating an illegal-gambling business. Ellis sentenced him to 25 hours of community service, two years probation and two months in a half-way house.

Jim Lindsey: Lindsey was the owner of Mountain Music & Amusement, a company that operated pool tables, jukeboxes and video-poker machines since the 1980s, when he turned the business over to sons then got involved again when they had trouble. Lindsey testified against Medford in his trial.

In his statement to the court, Lindsey said, “What I did, I did do it. I knew what I was doing was wrong.” He apologized to his family and to his church. “I’m sorry,” he said. Three men sat in support of Lindsey in court: a former U.S. marshal, the owner of a heavy-equipment business and Lindsey’s pastor.

Max O. Cogburn Jr., Lindsey’s attorney, noted that Lindsey is continuing to cooperate with the government in its ongoing investigation of illegal gambling in the mountains and asked the judge to consider that when deciding Lindsey’s sentence. Judge Ellis said that he would and asked the government attorneys whether or not Lindsey’s cooperation would help the government move forward within the next 90 days. The government attorneys said that it would.

Lindsey, convicted on one count of conducting an illegal-gambling business, was sentenced to five months in a federal prison, three years of supervised release and five months in a half-way house, but it appears that that sentence will be reduced as Lindsey continues to cooperate with government agents.

— Jason Sandford, multimedia editor


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