Pubdate: Tue, 10 Jun 2003
Source: State, The (SC)
Copyright: 2003 The State
Author: Jeffrey Collins,  Associated Press
Bookmark: (Asset Forfeiture)


ANDERSON, S.C. - Two Upstate sheriffs and state agents are having a
very public fight over cash and property seized from an alleged drug
smuggler that could add up to millions of dollars.

Anderson County Sheriff Gene Taylor has taken some of his colleagues
to court, meaning the public will be privy to turf wars usually fought
in private.

A hearing started Tuesday and is scheduled to continue next

Taylor is fighting with the Oconee County Sheriff's Office and the
State Law Enforcement Division over the assets of Ronnie Burkhart.

Authorities say Burkhart was a big-time drug smuggler, but died before
criminal charged could be filed.

His assets were seized and deputies from Oconee and Anderson counties
as well as SLED and local prosecutors agreed to split the property,
cash and other items with Burkhart's family.

But what was never agreed upon was how the law enforcement agencies
would split the proceeds. And Taylor is angry that SLED and Oconee
County deputies got about $270,000 apiece, while Anderson County
received just over $60,000, all of which went to cover the expenses of
a lawyer and a retired IRS agent.

Complicating the matter is a number of pieces of Burkhart's property
that have been seized and will eventually be sold. In court papers,
lawyers for Taylor estimate that land is worth $2.4 million, half of
which will go to the Burkhart family.

The land could actually sell for more or less, but no action will be
taken until the issues are resolved, officials said.

Taylor said he has spent more than 20 years investigating Burkhart and
others in the Upstate that he said were involved in international drug

But some time in the past five years or so, SLED and Oconee County
deputies began their own investigation, which led to the seizures,
Oconee County Sheriff James Singleton said.

"I had no idea of what the Anderson County Sheriff was doing,"
Singleton said.

The stakes are high. Taylor wants $1 million. His annual budget in
Anderson County is about $6 million, while Singleton said his budget
in Oconee County is about $5 million.

"We want to do what's right by our citizens," Taylor

If he wins the money, Taylor wants to talk to the attorney general's
office about creating a computer database to help officers across
South Carolina fight drug crime. But he stresses the case is not about
money, but fairness. "I don't care if they give it to the orphans,"
Taylor said.

At Tuesday's hearing, lawyer Bruce Byrholdt, who received $15,000 from
Anderson County to consult Taylor in the Burkhart case, said Anderson
County deputies did less than 10 percent of the work on the case.

"I have 38 exhibits and four witnesses that say otherwise," Taylor's
lawyer Beattie Ashmore told the judge.

Byrholdt also said Taylor testified in a different case that he had
three notebooks of information on the Burkhart matter, but when
authorities asked for his materials, he only turned over one page.

"Someone was not being accurate, someone was not being truthful,"
Byrholdt said,

Outside the courtroom and within earshot of Byrholdt, Taylor
vigorously defended himself, saying the page was only the information
he had on Burkhart himself, while the notebooks contained material on
Burkhart and his associates.

"I will not stand by and let someone call me a perjurer," Taylor

Circuit Court Judge J.C. Nicholson Jr., who said by law he must
determine how to split the seized money, ended the hearing after two
witnesses testified.

The matter will be taken up again July 10. 
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