The trial of former Rankin police Chief Darryll Briston, accused of stealing $5,855 seized during a drug raid, is all about greed and abuse of authority, a prosecutor told a jury Monday in opening arguments.
Roy Conn, a trial attorney with the civil rights division of the U.S. Justice Department, also said that Briston used employees at the police department to manufacture evidence to cover up his crime.
Defense lawyer Caroline Roberto countered that Briston had been set up by his adversary, Mayor Demont Coleman.
“This case is less about a crime being committed and more about a political vendetta by the mayor of Rankin to oust the chief of police,” Roberto said.
Briston, 40, of Penn Hills, is charged with stealing $5,855 that had been seized from Rankin resident Tamera Brice during a search of her house two years ago.
He is accused of using for his own purposes the money kept in the Rankin police safe. Prosecutors later added charges that he falsified receipts to make it look like part of the money had been spent repairing Brice’s Chevrolet Blazer after it was damaged in a hit-and-run in July 2003.
Briston has said he used $5,787 of the $5,855 for the car repairs for Brice. His receipts supporting the claim are fake, the prosecution has said.
Allmor Deer, the owner of the auto body shop Allmor Corp. of North Versailles, testified that he repaired the car for Briston at a cost of $1,900 and that Briston paid $1,600 in installments. Briston later convinced Allmor’s son to create a phony receipt, Deer testified.
Deer said Briston told him he had crashed into the car and needed the repairs done quietly.
“He said he’d pay out of his own pocket,” Deer said. “He said he’d been having problems with the mayor and didn’t want any talk about it.”
The prosecution played a recording of a telephone conversation Deer had with Briston. In the recording, made with the help of the FBI, Briston admits the cost of the repairs was $1,900, not the $5,787 that Briston argues is the correct amount.
Brice, testifying for the prosecution, told the jury that the money taken from the safe was hers. The cash was seized during a raid of Brice’s Rankin home on April 15, 2002, when agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives arrested her fiance, Richard Powell, on a warrant for drug and weapons charges.
A small amount of marijuana was found during the search. The money was found in a safe in the home.
Brice said the money came from jobs she worked and from money Powell and relatives had given to her. Roberto asked Brice why she hadn’t given proof to Briston to convince him the money wasn’t from drug proceeds.
“You knew on the day the money was taken that you probably weren’t going to get it back because it was drug money?” Roberto asked Brice.
Brice said she thought the money should be returned because she had done nothing wrong. She said she repeatedly pressed Briston for the money, and he always told her she wouldn’t get it back because it was drug money. No forfeiture proceedings were initiated, she testified.
Brice said that after her black Chevrolet Blazer was damaged in a hit-and-run, she complained to Briston. He told her the money taken during the seizure had been spent to buy a video camera for the police department, she testified. She added that he told her that because she didn’t have any insurance, he would help her and have her car repaired. She was supposed to stay quiet about the repairs, she recalled.
Powell, now Brice’s husband, is serving 97 months in federal prison on drug and gun charges.