Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

October 13, 2012

Attorneys seek to disqualify prosecutor

Meade and Ferguson among 10 charged

Kenneth Hart
The Independent

ASHLAND — The attorneys representing two of the defendants in a federal case involving an alleged motorcycle theft and money-laundering ring have filed a motion seeking the disqualification of the assistant U.S. attorney who is prosecuting the matter.

Michael Curtis and Jeremy Clark, who represent Richard “Dickie” Meade and George Ferguson, respectively, maintain that Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Smith should be removed from the case because he harbors a long-standing grudge against one of the other defendants, John C. Slusher, and his family.

Curtis and Clark contend Smith is using the case to wage “a personal and political battle” against his and father’s enemies and that their clients have been caught in the crossfire.

Meade, 64, and Ferguson, 53, both of Ashland, are among 10 defendants charged in the case, which is scheduled to go to trial Jan. 7 in U.S. District Court in London. The government alleges the defendants participated in a money-laundering conspiracy related to the interstate shipment of stolen motorcycles. Some of the defendants also are charged with money-laundering and possessing stolen vehicle parts with the intent to sell them.

According to Curtis’ and Clark’s motion, filed Friday, Slusher, 58, is the only defendant in the case from the London area, and “has been and is politically opposed” to Smith and his family.

Slusher’s son, Colby Slusher, is the circuit court clerk of Bell County and is married to the daughter of Knox County Magistrate Giulio Cima, who, according to Curtis and Clark, was one of two principals involved in the removal of Smith’s father, Preston Smith, as Knox County jailer in 2003. The other was then-Knox County Judge-Executive Raymond Smith, the motion states.

Following Preston Smith’s removal as jailer, it’s believed Steven Smith was involved in an investigation of Raymond Smith until he was removed from the case by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Lexington, according to the motion.

Curtis and Clark also argue statements made by Steven Smith at a September 2011, detention hearing for Slusher are evidence of the “vindictive and retaliatory nature” in which he is handling the case. At the hearing, Smith alleged Colby Slusher was elected Bell circuit clerk “due to some sort of election abuse and an ongoing federal investigation involving election abuse,” when “clearly, no such charges of any such nature have been acted upon by anyone against Colby Slusher.”

The attorneys contend Steven Smith also selected London as the venue for the case, even though Slusher is the only defendant from there, because he is well-known there, which gives him an unfair advantage in the case. One of the reasons he’s well-known was because he was a “leading opponent” in a recent wet-dry election in Barbourville and “clearly used his influence” to sway the outcome of the election, in which voters rejected alcohol sales by a 76-vote margin, the motion states.

Also, Curtis and Clark argue, their clients would never have been charged in the case if not for Smith’s “vendetta” against Slusher. According to the motion, Meade was interviewed by federal authorities in West Virginia in 2006 regarding the matter, but was never charged, and the case was then referred to another assistant U.S. attorney in Kentucky, who reviewed it but declined to prosecute it. Then, Smith became involved and “proceeded with gusto” once Slusher’s alleged involvement became apparent, the motion states.

The 10 defendants in the case are facing a total of 18 charges. The others charged are Mark Justice, 52, of Ashland; Shon Fields, 33, of Cincinnati; Robert Jason Chapman, 31, and Christina Bannigan, 31, both of Cleves, Ohio; and Robert “Trader Bob” Harris, 61, Margaret “Peggy” Harris, 60, and Matthew Harris, 38, all of Newport. Robert and Matthew Harris are the husband and son, respectively, of Peggy Harris.

The government alleges the defendants participated in a money-laundering conspiracy related to the interstate shipment of stolen motorcycles. Some of the defendants also are charged with money laundering and possessing stolen vehicle parts with the intent to sell them. Additionally, Fields is charged with obstruction of justice for allegedly lying to the grand jury, Robert Harris is charged with making false statements to a federal law enforcement agency and Slusher and Chapman are charged with threatening witnesses to try to keep them from testifying before the federal grand jury investigating the alleged conspiracy.

The indictment lists four pieces of property  — two in Boyd County and one each in Bell and Campbell counties — the U.S. Attorney’s Office is seeking to have forfeited because it alleges they are proceeds of or facilitated the commission of some of the crimes alleged in the indictment.

Additionally, the government is seeking a monetary judgment of $2.5 million, which prosecutors believe represents the amount the defendants derived from their alleged criminal conduct.

According to the indictment, the defendants altered or obliterated the vehicle identification numbers on stolen motorcycles. They then allegedly transferred the titles to others, before selling them, to conceal that the bikes were stolen.

KENNETH HART can be reached at khart@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2654.