Pubdate: Sat, 31 May 2008
Source: Fayetteville Observer (NC)
Copyright: 2008 Fayetteville Observer
Author: Greg Barnes
Bookmark: (Corruption - United States)


A federal judge sentenced two more former Robeson County deputies
Friday. In the process, the judge raised a question that went
unanswered in court: How much did former Sheriff Glenn Maynor know
about the widespread corruption in his department?

U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle picked at the edges of that
question while sentencing former detective Steven Lovin to 12 years in
prison and former lieutenant C.T. Strickland to seven years.

Boyle asked Lovin's lawyer, Jeffrey Welty of Raleigh, whether Maynor
was aware that Lovin had been stealing money from drug couriers on the

Welty replied that the sheriff didn't know. But U.S. Assistant
Attorney Frank Bradsher said "there was certainly plenty of
information going up the chain." Bradsher did not indicate whether the
information made it all the way to Maynor, who has pleaded guilty to
lying to a grand jury and to allowing deputies to get paid for working
at his home and at a golf fundraiser. On Thursday, Boyle said he was
going to sentence Maynor to seven years in prison, a steep departure
from a federal recommendation calling for 18 months to two years.

Boyle agreed to postpone sentencing to give Maynor and his lawyers
more time to consider his proposed sentence.

But the judge said he reserved the right to sentence Maynor to a
10-year term if he learned about other crimes. Boyle and Bradsher
called corruption in the Robeson County Sheriff's Office a cancer left
unchecked for decades - until a state and federal investigation known
as Operation Tarnished Badge began in 2002. "It didn't happen in a
week or an hour or a month," Boyle said. "It happened systemically,
over decades." Twenty-two former lawmen have pleaded guilty - nearly a
quarter of the department. Those convicted include almost the entire
command structure and all seven deputies in the Drug Enforcement
Division, which Strickland had supervised. Bradsher said the
investigation is not over. Crimes spelled out in indictments include
kidnapping, beating and robbing drug dealers, arson and stealing money
during drug stops on the interstate. In testimony Friday, Bradsher
said Lovin and his partner, former deputy James Owen Hunt, sought out
Hispanics driving rental cars on I-95. Those carrying drug money were
arrested and their money seized. Bradsher said Lovin and Hunt
confiscated more than $9million. They skimmed some of that money - at
least $150,000 between 2001 and 2004 - and at times stored it in an
elaborate secret compartment built into a stairway of Lovin's home. A
hydraulic lift opened the compartment when two concealed wires were
touched together.

"They weren't enforcing the law at all," Boyle said. "They would just
go fishing. That was gravy." Bradsher said Lovin bought an expensive
house, paying $10,000 in cash under the table at closing.

Hunt used part of his money to buy a $16,000 pontoon boat and pave his

Hunt, who cooperated with investigators, was sentenced in March to two
years in prison.

The two became so brazen, Bradsher said, that they formed their own
company, Blue Light Interdictions, and taught law enforcement agencies
across the country how to stop suspected drug dealers on interstates.
He said a county in South Carolina paid the two 10 percent of the
money they seized in drug stops while training lawmen in that county.
"How could a county pay a bounty for something like that?" Boyle
asked. "Could that be legal?" Boyle sentenced Lovin, who is 38, to two
years in prison for stealing the money in Robeson County and another
five years for illegally programming satellite TV access cards.

The sentences run at the same time. Before Lovin's sentence was
imposed, Boyle read a list of about a dozen people who received
lengthy prison sentences after Lovin, Strickland and other corrupt
deputies testified against them in federal court. "What more can you
say in response to that," Boyle said, "when he was doing what they
did, only with a badge?" Lovin apologized to the court and his family.

"I'm a very good person.

I made a huge mistake," he said. After sentencing, Lovin removed a
gold ring, necklace and a money clip. "I love you," he told his family
as he was escorted in handcuffs out of the courtroom and off to prison.

Strickland, who is 41, received a seven-year sentence for conspiring
with others to steal less than $70,000 from a federal program that
redistributes money seized from drug dealers to local law enforcement

Federal sentencing guidelines called for 24 to 30 months in prison.
Strickland's lawyer, Joe Zeszotarski of Raleigh, argued that
Strickland knew about other crimes happening in the Sheriff's Office
but never participated in them. Strickland's family, including his
12-year-old son, watched the sentencing. Strickland was given until
July 1 to report to prison.
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