SBI agent Mark Isley slow to report tips on cop conspiracy

Editor's note: Experience the stories of Floyd Brown and Greg Taylor in the videos at the bottom of this story.

jneff@newsobserver.com / mlocke@newsobserver.comAugust 17, 2013 

For nearly two years, SBI agent Mark Isley failed to file reports involving serious allegations of wrongdoing against his colleagues at the Anson County Sheriff’s Department, according to documents attached to a lawsuit against Isley.

The information turned out to be on target: The two officers ended up in federal prison for soliciting payoffs from accused criminals.

The new details about Isley surfaced in the lawsuit filed by Floyd Brown that was settled last week. The two cases have followed Isley during his 24-year career, but SBI leaders have taken no public action.

Only in 2010, after The News & Observer chronicled Brown’s confinement based on an implausible confession, did the SBI launch an internal investigation. It followed at least five years of documented concerns about Brown’s arrest.

Isley, 48, has been the supervisor of the Medicaid Fraud Unit, where he is paid $86,215 a year, since 2005. Before that, he was a field agent and a supervisor in the Charlotte area.

Isley’s journey at Anson

In 1993, Isley was sent to Anson County, where he worked closely with two sheriff’s deputies, Bud Hutchinson and Robert Poplin. For years, the two deputies demanded cash from criminal suspects or their family members in return for dropping charges.

Isley heard about the conspiracy as early as July 1994, when a defendant told Isley he had paid Poplin $3,100 to reduce breaking and entering charges from a felony to a misdemeanor, Isley later wrote in a report on the matter.

An officer must report such allegations promptly. But Isley did not file reports about that complaint or several others until 1996. That’s when Isley met with a Wadesboro police officer and a woman who said Poplin asked for $1,000 to drop charges against the woman and her sister.

In his deposition, Isley contended that he didn’t stay silent until 1996. He said it was “very likely” that he gave a verbal report to his boss, Bart Burpeau, soon after hearing about each allegation.

Burpeau is dead. Burpeau’s boss, James Woodard, testified that he only heard of the allegations after Isley met with the Wadesboro police officer in 1996. Woodard said Burpeau would have told him immediately of the earlier allegations. SBI records don’t mention Isley informing Burpeau prior to 1996.

Brown’s lawyers say Isley informed his supervisors in 1996 only because the police officer had caught wind of the conspiracy.

On July 5, 1996, Isley dictated seven reports about Poplin and Hutchinson. All but one of the incidents dated to 1994 or 1995. In one, a man told Isley that he had paid Hutchinson and Poplin $1,000 in cash to drop a rape charge. The man already faced another rape charge.

Hutchinson and Poplin later pleaded guilty to racketeering and went to federal prison.

‘Someone I admired’

“Detective Hutchinson was someone I admired very much and I loved very much,” Isley testified in a 2011 deposition.

Isley rose through the ranks as Brown’s lawyers raised claims that Isley had falsified Brown’s confession.

SBI leaders promoted Isley to be in charge of the Medicaid unit in 2005 after Isley filed a racial discrimination claim that said he had been wrongly denied a promotion despite his excellent job reviews and unblemished career.

Isley has never been disciplined, Cooper’s office said Friday.

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