Medford trial: Shepherd on the stand

Weaverville businessman Jack “Jackie” Willis Shepherd took the stand Friday afternoon in the federal trial of former Buncombe County Sheriff Bobby Medford, testifying that he supported Medford’s initial campaign for sheriff in 1994 by spending between $20,000 and $30,000 on everything from printed campaign materials and barbecue fund-raisers to a tailor and a public speaking coach.

Shepherd said he supported Medford because he thought Medford would “clean up the county” and because he had gotten word in 1993 that then-Sheriff Charlie Long was watching his video poker machine business.

Medford is facing several federal charges relating to the illegal operation of video gaming machines. The charges include conspiracy to commit extortion under the color of official right and conspiracy to conduct an illegal gambling business.

Shepherd, who owned the Cherokee Trading Post pawn shop, small strip shopping centers and a string of convenience stores, said his son, Jackie Dewayne Shepherd, initially oversaw the operation of video poker machines in his stores. The elder Shepherd said he took over the machines in 1998 or ‘99 because his son “got involved in drugs and wasn’t running his business, and he had stole some money from me.”

Shepherd told the court that he created a company called Western Amusement in 2001 in reaction to a change in state law in 2000 that required video poker machines to be registered and then slowly phased out. Shepherd said “it was known county-wide” that he paid out cash winnings on his machines to players that he and his store clerks knew. Under state law, pay-outs were limited to $10 in store merchandise.

“If we knew the person playing and they brought us a ticket for $500 or $1,000, we would pay them,” he said.

Shepherd said that over the years, he loaned Medford money and cashed checks for Medford because he thought Medford needed the money and because the Sheriff’s Department wasn’t “bothering the poker machines.”

Over three years leading up to the 2006 election, Shepherd said that he once delivered $1,000 to Medford’s office. Another time, former deputy Randy Bradford picked up cash from Shepherd for money, Shepherd said. Another time, Johnny Harrison asked for $2,000 and Shepherd said he gave Harrison the money.

Shepherd also testified that on Nov. 14, 2006, he received a call from former Lt. Ronnie Eugene “Butch” Davis warning him to “be careful” because federal agents were raiding the home of video poker machine owner Demtre Theodossis, known as “Jimmy the Greek” and the owner of Hot Dog King restaurants.

Under questioning by Assistant U.S. Attorney Corey Ellis, Shepherd told the court that he had already pleaded guilty to a charge of operating an illegal gambling business and was facing one to five years in prison, a $250,000 fine and the reimbursement of about $680,000. Shepherd said he hadn’t been sentenced yet.

In other prosecution testimony Friday:

– A former county dispatcher testified that he ran a license plate number through database searches on May 16, 2005, when reserve Capt. Guy Penland called it in. The tag came back “not of file,” an indication that it could be the tag of an undercover police officer. Robert James “Jim” Robinson testified that memos issued later instructed dispatchers not to run information through the databases for Penland. Penland is on standing trial alongside Medford.

Linda Clontz, a court official who oversaw Buncombe County’s program for people sentenced to perform community service, said she called Medford sometime after Aug. 18, 2003 to express “my displeasure and doubts” about the fact that Henderson Amusement employee Jerry Pennington had completed community service work at the Sheriff’s Department. Pennington had been arrested in Cleveland County, but a judge’s order there transferred his community service work to Buncombe County, a “very unusual” move, according to Clontz. Clontz received a time sheet signed by Lt. Jonny Harrison stating that Pennington had done his time, but Clontz said she thought the the time sheet had been falsified. “It was intuition; a gut feeling.”

Anna P. Deaton testified that she worked for Henderson Amusement as a record keeper. She told the court she transcribed Jerry Pennington’s notes regarding payments, including payments to Guy Penland and the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department. The records showed that payments were made for “Christmas money,” for locating machines in stores, for gas and for the Sheriff’s Department golf tournaments.

-Also Friday, Judge Tim Ellis dismissed one juror who told that court that he was friends with Wayne Garren, a video poker machine owner whose name had come up in opening statements and in documents presented as evidence. Ellis said the juror’s friendship—which included semi-weekly meetings to play cards—“presents a conflict that’s simply too plain.” One of two alternates will sit in the excused juror’s place.

— Jason Sandford, multimedia editor

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