Medford deputy: “I plead guilty because I am guilty”

At the continuing corruption trial of former Buncombe County Sheriff Bobby Medford this morning, one of Medford’s former deputies again took the witness stand and responded to defense attorneys’ questioning by once again declaring his guilt.

Former Lt. Johnny Harrison (pictured at right), 67, who stooped over to reach the witness stand’s microphone, had yesterday laid out the methods by which he would transfer cash to Medford, often from illegal video-poker operators, or if he didn’t have the cash on hand, forge Medford’s name on checks, which were cashed at stores managed by Medford’s allies. He had also detailed the methods by which he operated golf tournaments that ostensibly raised money for Medford’s campaign — even in non-election years. He pointed out that 16 teams out of 33 in a given year were video-poker operators, and that Medford — contrary to his attorneys statements, remained involved with favors for those operators after he appointed Harrison to oversee video-poker-machine registration.

Harrison was originally charged alongside Medford, former Lt. Ronnie “Butch” Davis and former reserve Capt. Guy Penland. Both Davis and Harrison have accepted plea deals.

This morning, Victoria Jane, one of Medford’s attorneys, questioned Harrison’s motivation in signing the plea deal.

“All charges but one [extortion under color of law] were dropped, and you’ve got a beach home in North Myrtle Beach, do you still hope to avoid prison — and retire there?”

But Harrison replied bluntly “Ma’am, when I plead guilty, that’s because I am guilty.”

He added that “it would be great” to avoid any prison time, but said he didn’t necessarily expect that from the government and that his reasons for testifying were due to his guilt.

“It’s difficult for me to be up here, talking about Bobby, talking about Guy. But what’s done is done. I did what I did and I realized there wasn’t a point in fighting that,” he said.

After Harrison left the witness stand, prosecutors called up Nick Anagnostopoulos, former owner of George’s Mini-Mart, where, prosecutors allege, Medford’s deputies would go to cash checks from his golf tournaments. Anagnostopoulos also testified that he had two video-poker machines making illegal cash payouts in his store, that the machines were owned by confessed illegal-gambling-ring operator Demetre “Jimmy the Greek” Theodossis and that he and Theodossis had met Medford in his office in 2000 about video poker.

“He said he wanted us to run a clean establishment — he wouldn’t cause problems for us if we didn’t cause problems for him,” Anagnostopoulos said. “He also said he wanted the money staying in Buncombe County instead of going to Cherokee.”

Ironically, Medford recorded $54,000 in gambling losses at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino in 2005, though defense attorneys have asserted that he only spent legitimate money there.

Anagnostopoulos said Medford never entered the stores to cash checks personally, and would instead wait outside in a car while an unidentified woman bought the check inside. Prosecutors produced seven pages of bank records detailing checks from Medford’s golf tournaments cashed at the store.

Witness testimony continues this afternoon.

— David Forbes, staff writer

illustration by Adam Altenderfer

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One thought on “Medford deputy: “I plead guilty because I am guilty”

  1. ncain

    When I was in town over the weekend I heard the rumor that Medford used a lot of this money to help support the kids of his screw-up son. That doesn’t really excuse it, but I’m less inclined to think he’s hopeless as he seems if he didn’t blow all of the money gambling. Has anyone else heard this? Is there any truth to it?

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