Trial of local lawyer once accused of financial fraud leaves behind untidy trail of personal ties
The acquittal of Greensboro lawyer TO Pella Stokes III on a single fraudrelated felony charge at the culmination of a nine-day trial possibly brings to a close what remains a baffling saga intertwining legal, law enforcement and criminal underworld circles.
Stokes had been accused of participating in a check-kiting scheme — described by the fraud and financial crimes investigator from Greensboro Police Department who was assigned to the case as “moving money from one account to other accounts without having funds present” — involving Beverly Hinson, the ex-wife of a Greensboro police officer, and Terrell Raynor, a con man whose trail of fraud-related convictions extends back to the late 1980s. Raynor was a legal client of Stokes’; a one-time business partner with Stokes in a music promotion enterprise, as reported in Spotlight magazine; and a onetime confidential informant who captured an associate under investigation for drug trafficking saying he would like to have a hit placed on journalist Jerry Bledsoe. Hinson and Raynor both testified for the state in Stokes’ trial.
The special prosecutors with NC Justice Department, which prosecuted Stokes, have not announced whether they intend to retry four felony charges against the defendant for which Superior Court Judge Edwin G. Wilson declared mistrial. The jury had been hung in a 7-5 split since early in deliberations, but forewoman Twinkle Scott said the majority had favored acquittal on all charges. Scott said that most jurors concluded that there was insufficient evidence to support the theory that Stokes directed the activities of Raynor and other codefendants. In an affidavit, Greensboro police Detective PD Nix had written that Stokes paid multiple large checks to Raynor, who immediately paid the funds back to them, and then Stokes had stopped payment on the original checks. Notwithstanding these alleged complex transactions, Scott said most jurors concluded that Stokes had remained unaware that any criminal activity was being perpetrated.
A woman in the courtroom wept as she listened to the clerk read the not guilty verdict. Supporters lightly drummed on the seats in approval, following the judge’s admonition against outward reaction. The defendant himself appeared somewhat dazed and overwhelmed with gratitude as he led his family, legal team and supporters out into the hallway.
“It’s always good to be vindicated,” he said. “I have no ill will against anyone. I just feel like justice has been done.”
As members of the jury emerged in the hallway, the Stokes party fanned out to thank them for their verdict, and the forewoman accepted a hug from the defendant. One juror, a woman, brushed past Stokes, however.
“Don’t do business with him anymore,” she said sharply.
“I won’t,” Stokes answered softly. Raynor, who is currently serving a 12-year prison sentence at Alexander Correctional Institution in western North Carolina, has led an illustrious career that began with financial crimes, careened into his victimization in an extortion scheme, and ended with him wearing a wire for the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration. Raynor contended that he committed the acts of bank fraud under duress to satisfy the demands of men who were threatening him with physical harm.
A sentencing memorandum prepared by Raynor’s lawyer and submitted to Judge Wilson on Feb. 26 states that the defendant “has provided an unprecedented level of assistance to the federal government in its investigation of criminal activity within the Middle District of North Carolina. Upon information and belief there still exists an ongoing investigation into high-level targets. The investigation is multifaceted and involves several federal agencies.”
Assistant US Attorney Clifton Barrett concurred in a supporting letter, noting that telephonic and in-person recordings made by Raynor helped convict three men: Terry Bracken of providing a firearm to a convicted felon, Louis Young of receiving the proceeds of extortion, and Gary Striblin of using a communication facility to facilitate the commission of a controlled substance offense.
“He worked closely with agents during the investigative phase, at times putting himself at great risk by meeting with targets alone while wearing recording devices,” Barrett attested. “Had Terrell Raynor not cooperated in the above captioned cases it would not have been possible to bring charges against and convict these charges.”
A Proffer of Information, which Raynor’s lawyer said was vetted for accuracy by the US Attorney’s Office, states that Striblin is Pella Stokes’ brother in law.
The proffer begins by recounting how Raynor was subjected to threats by Striblin, Bracken and Young about three days after his release from prison in 2005 for money they said Raynor owed them. “At this time, Pella Stokes, who was Gary Striblin’s brother-in-law, was also Raynor’s partner in trying to begin a promoting business,” the proffer states. “He asked Pella to intervene on his behalf and Pella said there was nothing he could do.”
To try to satisfy the debt, Raynor’s father reportedly deeded a house over to Young’s girlfriend. A pattern commenced, the document alleges, in which the three men would make demands of Raynor, the victim would make partial payment and then the threats would begin anew.
“Raynor again went to Pella Stokes and they were in fact beginning to make money with their promotion company,” the Proffer reads. “Louis, Gary and Terry got jealous because Raynor was spending money on cars and other things and not giving them what they felt like was their due. He was threatened again by three people who jumped him in front of his car at a gas station. He told Pella that he had bought a pistol. Pella told him to get rid of it, that it wasn’t worth the risk.”
Being a convicted felon and someone who is not legally allowed to carry a firearm, Raynor said he went to Greensboro police Officer William Graves, who was married to Raynor’s sister and was someone the ex-con consider to be ‘a straight up’ police officer that might be able to give him some advice.” Graves reportedly put Raynor in touch with another police officer, who agreed to help him with the threats if he would agree to act as a confidential informant. The document reports that Raynor met with two detectives, who gave him $100,000 in cash in a suitcase, and Raynor “went to Tuscana Restaurant with the money in an effort to set Gary upon the delivery of the extortion money.”
The transaction never took place, and Raynor was reportedly arrested “as part of the ruse” so he could continue to assist the police. Two months later, the threats reportedly began again.
“Raynor and Pella lost several hundred thousand dollars on a concert that they tried to promote and at the same time Raynor was running a restaurant [Zanza],” the proffer document states. “There was a big fight in the restaurant and he was afraid he was going to be killed. After that is when he committed the frauds that constituted all of the original charges he is now facing.”
High Point lawyer John Bryson reportedly represented Raynor in his parole hearing and arranged for him to meet with the feds.
“In his initial meeting with the federal authorities Raynor and his attorney met in a large conference room in the US Attorney’s Office with approximately eight to ten people which included members of the US Attorney’s
Office and law enforcement from local and federal agencies,” the proffer document states. “The US Attorney’s Office advised Raynor, in the presence of his attorney, that they would not seek to indict him on federal charges in exchange for his cooperation in a federal investigation.”
Later, over the course of five days, DEA special agents Bobby Kimbrough and Otis Foster reportedly interviewed Raynor at Bryson’s office in the presence of Assistant US Attorney Sandra Hairston.
“Federal agents provided him with a keyfob which contained a listening device,” the proffer document states. “He was sent to deal directly with Young, Striblin and Bracken, and to get as much information as he could. Raynor contends that over 1,300 hours of recording was done and it was monitored and listened to by agents David Gardner of the FBI among others. All of the extortion money which was paid previously was on tape as evidence that the money taken as part of the fraudulent activity was actually used for those extortion payments. Raynor was in protective custody during some of that time and the federal government paid for his apartment.
“During some of these taped conversations, Gary stated that he wanted to kill Jerry Bledsoe and John Hammer who are reporters and during that same time the three individuals came and asked for more money,” the proffer document continues. “Raynor told Bobby Kimbrough that he needed the money and he was held out to the ATF, Secret Service, FBI and other agencies so that they could provide him with funds to make some of these payments. He then went to work trying to put a gun on Terry Bracken at the request of the ATF and was successful in doing that. Bobby Kimbrough wanted him to set up a drug deal and Raynor was able to set up a deal for 10 kilos. The feds went so far as to rent him an apartment for the drug deal, but could not afford to pay the rent and Raynor’s father actually paid for it. The deal was to be made with Louis Young, and the day Louis was arrested an individual by the nickname of ‘Spanky’ got away and tipped all of the other targets of that Raynor was cooperating. Spanky was actually with Louis that day because he was going to kill Raynor.”
The final section of the Proffer reads, “Once Raynor got burned, there was a manhunt for Gary and Terry, and Raynor lived in downtown Winston-Salem in a hotel on the government’s dime. While residing at the aforementioned hotel, Raynor used Assistant US Attorney Clifton Barrett’s identifying information in order to make unauthorized charges at the hotel. Gary was arrested and upon his arrest was found with another man.
Terry could not be located and the feds put pressure on Joe Williams, who was his lawyer at the time, to help him come in. Williams was successful in bringing Terry in to surrender himself. All of this information was at some point leaked onto the internet and it became apparent that Raynor was a confidential informant. He even had a nickname among the federal agents as ‘Special Agent 009 1/2.’ “After some time, Terry Bracken began to cooperate with authorities, and they told Raynor that he was fine,” the proffer document continues. “He bought a store in Winston-Salem with some money loaned to him by his father. At one point a Detective Nix from the Greensboro Police Department called him in a panic and said that his life was in danger. He had no money at that point, and that is when he entered into the last fraud with Wachovia Bank on Martin Luther King in Winston-Salem. That fraud was for $5,500 and he needed the money to stay hidden. He tried to call Bobby Kimbrough and he couldn’t get an answer and was afraid to go home, so he left and went to his father’s farm in Newton Grove. Agent Bobby Kimbrough called Raynor and told him that there was actually a threat on his life. He was gone four days. When he came back to Winston-Salem he intended to help the girl out who had given him the funds fraudulently but at that point it was too late to fix it.”
The sentencing memorandum reports that Raynor, who is now 40, suffered a stroke in early 2009.
While most of the jurors were unable to reach a conclusion of Stokes’ guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, yet more untidy threads connect the circle of individuals accused of check-kiting with narcotics.
Six months into the police investigation into the check-kiting scheme, Detective Nix swore out an affidavit in support of a warrant detailing how computers suddenly disappeared from suspects’ businesses and residences, and how the discovery of at least one of the computers during a drug-related arrest yielded evidence of interest in the reporting of The Rhinoceros Times, the News & Record and blogger Ben Holder, who is responsible for the Troublemaker site.
Nix wrote that he had several warrants executed at suspects’ residences and businesses.
“During interviews of those suspects, information was learned that computers in the aforementioned businesses and residences had been removed,” Nix wrote. “As part of the investigation it was learned that the computers that had been removed were used by the suspects during the timeframe of their crimes and had been removed from the aforementioned businesses and residences so that police would not have a chance to examine or seize those computers.
“On 6/21/2007,” Nix continued, “detectives with the Greensboro Police Department, ATF agents and Randolph County detectives located and arrested the owner of the computer and electronic devices for federal charges including the selling of narcotics. When arrested, located in his possession were articles from the News & Record, The Rhino Times and downloaded search warrants (which were located at the Troublemaker website) in reference to the investigation of Pella Stokes, Terrell Raynor and the other coconspirators. When asked about the printed copies of the search warrants and the articles about the investigation, this suspect made a statement that he thought the police were investigating him for the Stokes case.”
“An independent, reliable witness made statements that the owner of these devices was a regular of club Zanza and was usually in the company of Terrell Raynor….”
Greensboro lawyer TO Pella Stokes III celebrates a not-guilty verdict with his parents. (photo by Jordan Green)