On August 8th, 2007, at least two county sheriffs from western North Carolina accepted money to protect an illegal gaming business, according to an accused ring leader. 42 year-old James Otis Henderson is one of the several suspects that are charged by federal prosecutors with managing the illegal gaming business and bribing a local official with money.
Sheriff Jack Conner from Rutherford County was collaborating together with federal officers last December 2006 when he received $100,000 dollars from Henderson, according to court papers filed on Tuesday.
Henderson had petitioned Conner to give protection for the houses where he placed his video poker machines and paid Conner an additional $1,000 dollars per month.
Henderson also told Conner during a conversation that the other county sheriffs were also receiving bribes, according to a judge's decision to jail Henderson before the actual trial. He also said that one sheriff wanted a payment of $100 dollars per video poker machine every month for protection while another sheriff wanted monthly installments of the payment.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Dennis Howell said that the activities of the defendants in the case show a deeper involvement in criminal acts which has a dangerous potential to influence the justice system of the West District of North Carolina and the state.
Henderson from Inman, South Carolina, managed Henderson Amusement Incorporated with his brother, 43 year-old Barron Sloan Henderson from Lyman, South Carolina. Barron Henderson is indicted in charges of operating a prohibited illegal gaming business and witness in tampering activities.
North Carolina began to confiscate video poker machines last year and they became officially illegal in July 1st, 2007. When the video poker machines were still allowed, machine operators could operate three machines in one location and players could win $10 dollars worth of merchandise.
In a federal indictment last week, federal prosecutors said that the illegal video poker ring earned a total of $5 million dollars in their seven years of operation and often gave out jackpots worth thousands of dollars.
Among those who have been indicted in the case are two ex-Buncombe County sheriff's deputies. They are charged with conspiracy related to the illegal gambling operation.
Prosecutors said that Henderson gave Captain Guy Kenneth Penland protection money on a daily basis. Neither Buncombe County Sheriff Van Duncan, who assumed the position in November 2006, nor his predecessor, former Sheriff County Bobby Medford were charged in the indictment.
Spokeswoman Suellen Pierce from the U.S. Department of Justice in Charlotte refused to comment on the case.