Tennessee Law Enforcement Officer Pleads Guilty in Illegal Poker Case, Five Others Indicted
A former Deputy Sheriff with the Knox County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) has pleaded guilty and five other law enforcement officers have been indicted for their roles in protecting an illegal high stakes poker game. The investigation dates back to 2009, but it wasn’t until now that the men involved are facing the music.
As it turned out, it was all a setup. According to former Deputy Sheriff Robbie Flood’s plea agreement, the “illegal poker game” was actually a ruse created by the FBI. In October 2009, Flood was approached by Deputy Sheriff Samuel Hardy, Jr. about protecting the money for a high stakes game in Knoxville, Tennessee. The two men met with an undercover FBI employee (UCE), who offered to pay them to escort money for the game, which would be attended by gamblers from out of town. Another deputy, Jimmy Douglas, also got involved. They were warned by the UCE that the poker game was illegal.
On November 9th, 2009, the three men met with the UCE to receive their payments for the job: Hardy and Douglas got $500 each and Flood received $550. The extra money Flood got was for gas, as he was using his police car to escort the money (he requested the gas bump, it was not offered initially).
The “poker game” was held on November 13th, 2009; all of the players were undercover FBI agents and informants. Each of the ten players brought $100,000 in cash for the game and $10,000 for the house fee to a hotel in Knoxville. There, they gave the money to Hardy and law enforcement officers Robert Cummings, Ben Lopez, and David Joyner. The officers counted the money and split it into two $500,000 portions, which they then transported to two different hotels using undercover FBI vehicles. Flood and Douglas escorted the vehicles, Flood using his police car and wearing his uniform. Flood even turned on his overhead light to control traffic. Once the money arrived at the hotels, it was handed over to the undercover agents posing as players in the game and the officers serving as security went to the game at a local apartment.
Robbie Flood, the only one to enter into a plea agreement to this point, has pleaded guilty to violating the Hobbs Act. The Act, passed in 1946, is a federal law which states:
Whoever in any way or degree obstructs, delays, or affects commerce or the movement of any article or commodity in commerce, by robbery or extortion or attempts or conspires so to do, or commits or threatens physical violence to any person or property in furtherance of a plan or purpose to do anything in violation of this section shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both.
At first glance, it may seem confusing as to how the Hobbs Act was violated, as there was no robbery, no extortion, and no violence. It also doesn’t seem like any commerce was delayed or obstructed. In the plea deal, though, it states:
The defendant admits that he knowingly accepted money not lawfully due to him in exchange for his official acts; that is, he used his position to protect and facilitate purported illegal gambling in exchange for the receipt of a cash payment. In order to participate in the purported gambling event on November 13, 2009, the participants travelled from out of state to Knoxville with large sums of money and utilized hotels, facilities and products that affected interstate commerce. The defendant admits that his conduct did affect, would have affected, or had a realistic probability of affecting interstate commerce.
Additionally, the plea deal states that the following elements must be met for Flood to be guilty:
1) the defendant obtained or attempted to obtain property from another
2) that he did so knowingly by extortion under color of official right
3) that the property was given with the giver’s consent
4) that in so acting, interstate commerce was obstructed, delayed or affected, would have been affected, or had the potential to be affected
The first and third points are obvious. The second is less so; what it basically means is that Flood received money in exchange for using his position as a police officer in some improper way.
Then there is the fourth point. How was interstate commerce affected by this poker game? It is not totally clear, but based on the quote above, it is probably the use of hotels and roadways that qualify in this case. Flood likely held up traffic by turning on his squad car’s lights, which technically could have obstructed interstate commerce (they travelled on an interstate highway). The hotels were also specified to have been part of a national chain, so again, this probably has something to do with interstate commerce. I am not a lawyer, so take all that with a grain of salt. The most important aspect of the case looks like the “extortion under color of official right,” and the interstate commerce portion may be a bit shoehorned.
Flood will be sentenced in March. He faces up to 20 years and prison and up to a $250,000 fine, but it is highly unlikely that he will receive a maximum sentence, particularly because he pleaded guilty. The other five men involved – Hardy, Lopez, Joyner, Douglas, and Cummings – have just been formally indicted, but Flood is the only one so far that has made any sort of deal.