Originally created 12/14/01

Officers charged in club extortion



Two veteran Richmond County police officers are free on bond after being arrested Thursday and charged with extortion and conspiracy.

U.S. Magistrate Judge W. Leon Barfield set unsecured bond for Lt. Stoney Ray Turnage, 47, and Investigator Roderick Berry, 43, at $10,000 each, said Investigator Berry's attorney, Wade Padgett.

Lt. Turnage appeared without an attorney at Thursday's initial hearing in U.S. District Court in Augusta.

A conspiracy to extort money from nightclub operators in exchange for not enforcing laws and regulations and allowing them to keep their entertainment licenses began around April 1996, according to an indictment unsealed in federal court Thursday.

The officers are accused of receiving $40,000 in cash payoffs, Cuban cigars and Masters Tournament tickets and Masters shirts between April 1997 and July 18, 2001, from Dolls Downtown nightclub operator Howard Thrower and others.

According to the indictment:

Lt. Turnage forced Mr. Thrower to temporarily close Dolls Downtown in April 1998 because payoffs for that year had not been received on time.

In April of this year, Investigator Berry asked Mr. Thrower for an additional payoff of $1,000 in cash, saying "put me something else in there with them shirts." Investigator Berry agreed that a payoff of "one long one" - $1,000 in cash - would be sufficient. He also received Cohiba Cuban cigars, official Masters Tournament shirts and payoffs for both him and Lt. Turnage totaling $2,000.

In July, Lt. Turnage and Investigator Berry met with Mr. Thrower at an Augusta restaurant to discuss matters concerning the conspiracy. Investigator Berry conducted countersurveillance beforehand by checking around the meeting place, then changing the location of the meeting twice in less than five minutes.

Investigator Berry told Mr. Thrower that series tickets to the Masters Tournament which Mr. Thrower had given them were not profitable because they had made little money in scalping the tickets after "the bottom fell out."

Lt. Turnage assured Mr. Thrower that he would personally tell him whether payoffs were sufficient and received in full, and that "if you want it from the horse's mouth, you got to see the horse."

Investigator Berry then accepted a $2,000 payoff from Mr. Thrower and said, "You got one more of them?" Mr. Thrower gave him a $1,000 payoff.

A warrant was issued after a federal grand jury indicted the two officers, said Ed Reinhold, an FBI supervisory agent. They were arrested when they went to work Thursday at the sheriff's office

Their arrests were the result of an eight-month investigation by the FBI and the sheriff's office.

The officers have been placed on administrative leave, Sheriff Ronnie Strength said, and he planned to discuss their job status with the city attorney today.

The sheriff said he had no sympathy for the two officers.

"I will never knowingly let illegal activities go on within this agency," he said. "I don't feel sorry for anyone in law enforcement who violates the law and is arrested.

"I feel sorry for the many law enforcement officers that are honest and dedicated to their profession who will receive an unwarranted black eye because of incidents like this."

Memorable cases of both vice squad officers:

July 2000 - Police arrest a clerk at Lucy's Love Shop on charges of distributing obscene material.

July 2000 - The sheriff's office confiscated 45 video poker machines and about $9,000 in cash from three area arcades in connection with employees making cash pay-offs to under cover officers.

Augusta 2000 - Police raid uncovered 15 video poker machines and $3,800 in cash at the Millennium Solutions at Old Savannah and Tobacco roads.

February 2001 - The vice squad raided A.J.'s Game Room at Deans Bridge Road and D & M's Gifts and Games at Lumpkin Road confiscating 16 video poker machines and $7,000 in both raids.

Staff Writer Greg Rickabaugh contributed to this article.

Reach Albert Ross and Sylvia Cooper at (706) 724-0851.