Defense attorneys for former Buncombe County Sheriff Bobby Medford called four of his ex-employees to the stand Thursday morning to testify in his federal corruption trial.
First up was current Sheriff Van Duncan, who once worked as a deputy under Medford and defeated Medford in the 2006 elections. Duncan testified that in October 2006, about a month before the election, he talked with Tracy Keith Bridges, a deputy who ran the internal-affairs division of the Sheriff’s Department. Bridges said in court Wednesday that he would take cash and use it to purchase money orders in an effort to dodge campaign-finance laws.
Duncan said Bridges approached him at a Starbucks coffee shop. Duncan said Bridges identified himself as the treasurer of Medford’s re-election campaign. Duncan said he told Bridges that “if he felt he was in trouble, he needed to go speak with the FBI.” Duncan said he told an FBI task-force member — a former colleague from the Sheriff’s Department — about his conversation with Bridges.
Julie Kepple, the staff attorney for the Sheriff’s Department from 2002 through 2006, was the next defense witness. Kepple currently works as an assistant district attorney under Buncombe County District Attorney Ron Moore.
Kepple said that in December 2003, she responded to a local newspaper’s public-records request to see the Sheriff’s Department’s video-poker-machine registration records. Kepple said she talked with former Lt. Johnny Harrison and former reserve Capt. Guy Penland, who oversaw the machine registrations, and discovered that “the records weren’t kept very well.”
Kepple said Penland and Harrison contacted the video-poker-machine operators in the county and asked for updated paperwork on the number of machines they had and where they were located, and that she shared those records with the newspaper. Kepple said she also drafted a letter for Medford to sign that asked video-poker-machine owners to supply annual reports on the number of machines they owned and where they were located.
The next defense witness, Jerry Wayne Miller, told the court that he went to work for Medford in October 2004 after working for 24 years as both a U.S. attorney and assistant U.S. attorney in Asheville’s federal court. Miller said he was assigned the rank of major and reported directly to Medford.
Miller said that in the late fall or early summer of 2005, a “close friend” told him of allegations against Medford. The allegations included the illegal operation of video-poker machines in Buncombe County and that law enforcement was receiving money from illegal game owners and operators. “He said he didn’t want me near when the bomb went off, ” Miller said. “He was basically giving me a heads up.”
Miller said he told Medford about the conversation and that Medford “blew up.” Miller said he researched how Medford could force the removal of the machines from Buncombe County. There wasn’t follow-up action on that research, Miller said.
The last defense witness of the morning was Medford’s former secretary, Rhonda House. She said she never saw anyone hand Medford envelopes of cash and that she never knew of meetings between Medford and video-poker-machine owners and operators that defense witnesses have testified about.
The court recessed for lunch. When it resumes, Medford’s defense team said it expects to call Medford’s former chief deputy, George Stewart, to the stand, as well as Medford’s long-time girlfriend, Judi Bell.
— Jason Sandford, multimedia editor