Former Sheriff Charged in Video Poker Conspiracy
Special Report - December 18, 2007
A former Sheriff of Buncombe County and three of his deputies have been charged with taking bribes to cover up an illegal video gambling operation in western North Carolina, according to an indictment released December 13 by federal officials. The allegations name Bobby Lee Medford, Buncombe County’s sheriff between 1994 and 2006, and three other officers in the Sheriff’s Department. The indictment says that these four, in collaboration with other individuals, “conspired to enrich themselves unlawfully by extorting money from persons involved in the illegal video poker machine business in Buncombe County.” The charges include money laundering, making false statements to federal investigators, and obstructing state and local law enforcement. If convicted, each man could face up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
In the indictment, federal officials allege that Medford and his allies extorted funds by sponsoring golf tournaments where video poker operators could “donate” $400 to $500 to enter a team or $100 to sponsor a hole. In addition, the officers allegedly made direct demands for cash payments from video poker operators and worked on behalf of video poker operators to convince other business owners to put video poker machines in their stores. The charges also say that Medford, along with other employees in the Sheriff’s Office, used cash obtained through the video poker conspiracy to gamble at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino, where he reportedly lost at least $54,000 in 2006 alone.
The allegations are the latest chapter in a string of video gambling busts since video poker became illegal in North Carolina on July 1, 2007. Previously, state law prohibited video gambling operators from dispensing cash payouts or from awarding winners more than $10 in non-cash prizes, but the General Assembly passed a law during the 2006 session that began a one-year phase out of the video gambling machines. Since then, local law enforcement officials have broken up several video gambling networks, including one that spanned 15 counties in western North Carolina.
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