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Fourth Circuit Upholds North Carolina Sheriff’s Bribery Conviction

On November 7, 2011, former Buncombe County, North Carolina Sheriff Bobby Lee Medford’s conviction on federal bribery and conspiracy charges was upheld by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. The decision highlighted a scheme in which Medford and his co-conspirators misused their office to illegally profit from the regulation of video poker machine operations.

Medford served as Sheriff of Buncombe County from 1994 through 2006. A 2000 state law required North Carolina sheriffs to supervise the operation of video poker machines in their respective counties; unfortunately, Medford and various officers under his direct supervision misused their official powers to solicit illegal bribes and campaign contributions.

According to the Fourth Circuit, Medford and his co-conspirators “accepted cash payments from the operators of video poker machines and store owners in which the video poker machines were located ... [and] allowed certain of the video poker machines to be registered and operated in violation of the 2000 law ... including allowing the operation of ... machines that on occasion paid out large sums of money.”

The former sheriff also sponsored semi-annual golf tournaments as fundraisers, and received large donations from video poker machine operators and store owners. The donations were used for Medford’s re-election campaigns or were paid “into credit union accounts held by Medford or his girlfriend.”

Incredibly, one of the video machine operators, Henderson Amusement, made payments totaling $32,000 directly to Medford plus gave over $120,000 to several other co-conspirators, and included those payoffs on their expense reports.

Medford was indicted and convicted on various charges, including conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official right under the Hobbs Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1951; mail fraud, 18 U.S.C. § 1349; money laundering; conspiracy to obstruct the enforcement of criminal laws; and facilitating an illegal gambling operation. He was sentenced to concurrent terms of 180 months in federal prison.

The Fourth Circuit denied Medford’s appeal, finding no violations of due process by the district court and no violations of trial procedures or with the definition of honest services, based upon the facts presented at trial.

As noted by the appellate court, honest services fraud is available to prosecutors in “bribery and kickback schemes” such as those present in this case, since the former sheriff had misused his official position and accepted payments to illegally enrich his co-conspirators and himself. Thus, Medford’s convictions were affirmed. See: United States v. Bobby Lee Medford, 661 F.3d 746 (4th Cir. 2011), cert. denied.

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Related legal case

United States v. Bobby Lee Medford