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Sunday, June 8, 2008

Ex-Robeson deputies get prison terms for corruption charges

May. 30, 2008

A federal judge on Friday handed down sentences to two former deputies who were among the first charged in a six-year-long corruption probe into the Robeson County Sheriff's Office. U.S. Attorney George E.B. Holding said the sentencing of ex-deputies Steven Lovin and Charles Thomas Strickland highlighted "epidemic" corruption in the sheriff's office. "These officers violated the public's trust and tarnished the badge and department they were sworn to serve," Holding said. "Today's sentencing are a strong reminder that all public officials must maintain a high level of integrity," Holding added. "The public demands and should expect no less." U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle gave Lovin, 38, a 12-year term in federal prison. He also ordered Lovin to pay $150,000 in restitution.

Earlier in May, Lovin pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, as well conspiring to steal federal funds. Strickland, 41, faces a seven-year prison sentence for conspiring to commit money laundering. He pleaded guilty to that charge in February 2007. Both men also got three years of probation following their prison terms. Lovin and Strickland, along with a third ex-deputy Roger Taylor, were the first to be charged in Operation Tarnished Badge, a federal and state corruption investigation. Taylor was sentenced on Thursday to spend nearly four years in prison, pay $10,000 in restitution and undergo three years of probation. The three ex-deputies were accused of stealing tens of thousands in money and drugs from alleged dealers they stopped along Interstate 95.

Prosecutors said Strickland, Taylor and other deputies also conspired to misappropriate several thousands of dollars given by the federal Equitable Sharing Program. "Public corruption touches everyone," said Special Agent in Charge Charles E. Hunger, a criminal investigator with the Internal Revenue Service. "These former law enforcement agents were motivated by greed, which caused them to abuse their authority in the worse way." Investigators said Taylor and other deputies illegally reprogramed satellite cards to receive unlimited programming, costing DirecTV thousands in losses. They sold and exchanged those cards throughout the department, investigators said.

"Although satellite TV piracy may seem a minor or insignificant violation of the law, ... it served as a springboard, or gateway, into much egregious violations of law," said David L. Robey, an agent with the Secret Service based in Wilmington. The offense "promoted an atmosphere wherein criminal behavior was tolerated and created a code of silence within the department which discouraged sworn personnel from coming forward about other crimes for fear that they too would be exposed," Robey continued. Strickland oversaw the county's drug-enforcement squad, and Taylor was also a supervisor. Nineteen other Robeson officers – including former sheriff Glenn Maynor – have also been charged for offenses ranging from kidnapping to arson. Boyle postponed Maynor's sentencing after he wrangled with prosecutors on an open plea deal that would have Maynor serve less than two years. Maynor could get up to 10 years on two charges of lying to a grand jury and one of misapplying federal funds.

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