Pubdate: Wed, 11 Jun 2014
Source: Wilkes Journal-Patriot (NC)
Contact:  2014, journalpatriot, North Wilkesboro, North Carolina
Author: Frances Hayes


A civil case filed by Ronda Mayor Victor Varela and his wife, Teri 
against Ronda Commissioner Kevin Reece and former commissioner Manuel 
Wood began in Wilkes Superior Court on Tuesday morning.

The suit charges Reece and Wood with invasion of privacy and 
intentional infliction of emotional distress and civil conspiracy. It 
revolves around a video taken secretly in the Varelas' home in the 
fall of 2012 showing Teri Varela smoking pot.

Presiding over the case is Superior Court Judge Todd Burke. Before 
the jury trial began, Burke asked both parties about the possibility 
of mediation. Both lawyers indicated mediation had not been successful.

Opening remarks were made by Varela's lawyer, Ben Porter of 
Winston-Salem and Reece's lawyer, David Freedman, also of Winston-Salem.

Porter said evidence would show that Reece's thwarted political 
ambitions and a potential ordinance prohibiting the raising of 
roosters caused him to equip Josh Murray, an 18 year-old with a small 
button video camera. The goal was to record the mayor and his wife 
smoking pot and to plant two bags of marijuana in their house.

The videos were shown to Tom Horner, local district attorney and 
Wilkes County Sheriff Chris Shew, as well as Varela's employer at the 
time, Wake Forest Medical Center.

Ultimately, "Reece and Wood hoped to use the videos to coerce Varela 
and forfeit the political process" by blackmailing him into resigning 
as mayor and to "stop pushing for a rooster ordinance," said Vermitsky.

He said Mrs. Varela has health problems that cause her to smoke 
marijuana medicinally.

In his opening remarks, Friedman disputed Mrs. Varela's use of 
marijuana as medicinal. "There is no reference to that in the video."

He also says Varela is "going about his business with no objection" 
when his wife is smoking marijuana. An audio recording does not 
demonstrate civil conspiracy, says Friedman.

"There is not a conversation of Reece telling the mayor to resign and 
no message that the tape will go away if the rooster ordinance 
disappears," said Friedman.

Josh Murray testimony

Murray appeared as a witness on Tuesday morning for Varela. During 
questioning by Varela's lawyer, John Vermitsky, Murray said he was 
living in his car when the Varelas, family friends, asked him to stay 
at their house for a few days.

While applying for a job, Reece asked Murray if he would "mind doing 
me a favor." Murray said he only knew Reece casually, but agreed to 
go to his house.

Murray said Reece asked him if he knew anything about drugs and asked 
if he would plant two bags of marijuana in the Varelas' house. He 
said charges of distribution are made with more than one bag of pot.

Murray said Reece gave him $120 to purchase marijuana and also had an 
acquaintance of Reece's go with him to buy the pot.

"He didn't trust me with the $120," said Murray.

Later Reece gave Murray the button video camera and provided 
instructions on how to use it. "He told me to leave some pot out to 
smoke with the Varelas," said Murray.

Cross examination was done by Reece's lawyer, Timothy Stewart. He 
questioned Varela's use of marijuana with Murray, which Murray 
denied. He said it was Reece's idea to go to District Attorney Tom 
Horner's office with the video and to the sheriff's office.

According to Murray, Reece said if law enforcement "is tipped off, 
they can get a search warrant" and go to the Varelas' house. Reece 
wanted to go to Varela's employers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical 
Center with the video, so he "would be fired," said Murray.

Testimony from Wake official

In testimony on Tuesday afternoon, John Moser, associate director and 
chief officer in the Risk and Insurance Management Department at Wake 
Forest Baptist Medical Center, said Reece did approach people at Wake.

Moser, who is in charge of investigating criminal activity around the 
medical center, said Reece contacted a board member in November 2012. 
The general council and ultimately Moser became involved.

Moser met with Reece at the Jonesville Police Department to discuss 
the video and Reece's allegations that Varela could be taking 
controlled substance from the hospital.

"We were not concerned with the recreational use of pot, but the role 
of controlled substances," said Moser. Through an investigation they 
learned Varela did not have access to controlled substances and no 
problems with his supervisor.

The investigation was closed and Varela maintained his job. He did 
not learn of the investigation until he told his supervisor about the 
video and an upcoming story in April 2013.

Also testifying Thursday afternoon was Manuel Wood, who said he met 
with three or four other people, including Reece, about the video.

During testimony, Varela said he and his wife have suffered from 
anxiety after news of the video came out. He testified that Reece got 
in touch with him about the video and told him the video would be 
released if he did not resign as mayor.

Ronda Commissioner Debra Goldman was present during the afternoon 
session of court, sitting behind Reece. The trial continued today.

Jury selection for the suit was Monday causing Varela and Reece to 
miss a 5 p.m. work session scheduled for that day. Also absent were 
Commissioner Debra Goldman and Rex Ashley. Commissioners Rayjean 
Benge and Sam Foster waited until phone calls from Reece and Varela 
cancelled the work session.
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