Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local News

December 10, 2012

2 defendants in theft-ring case to enter guilty pleas

Trial for remaining 8 set to begin Jan. 7

LONDON — Two of the 10 defendants in a federal court case involving an alleged multistate motorcycle theft and money-laundering operation will enter guilty pleas.

Attorneys representing Christina Bannigan, 31, of Cleves, Ohio, and Shon Fields, 33, of Cincinnati, have filed motions requesting their clients be rearraigned for the purpose of changing their pleas from not guilty to guilty. Both have reached plea agreements with the government, according to the government.

Bannigan and Fields are scheduled to be rearraigned Jan. 24 in London before U.S. District Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove.

Trial is scheduled for Jan. 7 for the remaining defendants: Mark Justice, 52, Richard “Dickie” Meade, 64, and George Ferguson, 53, all of Ashland; John C. Slusher, 58, of Pineville; Robert Jason Chapman, 31, of Cleves; 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 the fact the bikes were stolen.

An investigation by the Boyd County Sheriff’s Department into a March 7, 2007, shooting on Ky. 5 led to the discovery of a motorcycle “chop shop” on Meade Springer Road believed to have been part of the operation.

The defendants face maximum prison sentences of 20 years if they are convicted. However, application of federal sentencing guidelines would likely result in them receiving far less time.

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

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