A county commissioner has been indicted on gambling charges after he was allegedly caught on video entering an illegal poker game minutes after attending a Warren County Commission meeting.
The commissioner, Wayne Copeland of the 9th District, appeared before Circuit Court Judge Bart Stanley this past week for arraignment on the charge of gambling. The count is a misdemeanor, generally resolved by fine and, in some cases, a six-month probationary sentence. Several of those caught along with Copeland at the illegal gambling house on Academy Lane in August have already entered pleas, most paying a $50 fine on their misdemeanor charges.
Copeland is accused of participating in a poker game which required players to pay a $25 buy-in to play. Copeland was reportedly caught on video paying his entry fee and the act was witnessed by an undercover operative who was sitting at the poker table.
The weekly poker tournament was raided by lawmen after they received complaints about the gambling house, complaints which included allegations of narcotics use. Officers found drugs on some of the 21 people caught at the gambling house during the raid. Copeland was not among those hit with drug charges and is only one of two suspected who opted to have his case bound to the grand jury. The other, Margel Ward, is the reputed manager of the gambling house. Ward, who is in jail serving time for violating his probation, faces gambling promotion charges.
Copeland ended up in Stanley’s court after he sought a showdown in General Sessions Court before Judge Bill Locke. His attorney, Ryan J. Moore, hoped he could get his client cleared of the charges during preliminary hearing. However, prosecutors had a secret ace up their sleeve the defense did not know about. That ace in the hole was surveillance footage they pulled from Ward’s cameras which seems to show Copeland inside the small building, buying in to the poker tournament. Copeland was bound to the grand jury after Judge Locke saw the footage.
Copeland is now set for a June 21 trial date; however, he may opt to plea bargain his case when his Feb. 24 plea or assignment date rolls around.
At stake could be Copeland’s seat on the County Commission. While the crime of gambling is one of the least serious misdemeanors under Tennessee law, it is also a removable offense for elected officials.
His fellow commissioners could move to have Copeland impeached if he is convicted of the gambling charge. Presently there is no indication his fellow commissioners will take such a course but the possibility remains should he be convicted or plea.