Raleigh, N.C. — Former state Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, R-Cabarrus, pleaded guilty Friday to federal charges related to an investigation into whether he improperly used money raised for his campaign for personal purposes, such as shoe repairs, paying a speeding tickets and magazine subscriptions.
Hartsell pleaded guilty to mail fraud and tax charges and faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 when he is sentenced in May.
Richard Glaser, an attorney for Hartsell, wasn't immediately available for comment.
"Transparency, honesty, and integrity on the part of elected officials allow citizens to make informed decisions about their campaign contributions and at the ballot box. This case should serve as a reminder that those occupying positions of public trust will be held accountable under the same criminal laws as their constituents," Acting U.S. Attorney Sandra Hairston said in a statement.
This case stems from a campaign finance investigation dating back several years. In 2015, the State Board of Elections referred Hartsell's case to prosecutors, contending that he misled investigators about how he was spending campaign finance funds.
"Our agency remains committed to the important work of investigations and campaign finance compliance for more than 5,000 campaigns, PACs and political organizations," Elections Director Kim Strach said Friday.
Hartsell did not run for re-election last year and left office at the end of December.
Candidates for the General Assembly must regularly report not only who they raise money from but how they spend it. Lawmakers are allowed to spend money not only on their campaigns but also on expenses related to holding office. Hartsell argued that expenses identified as improper by campaign finance investigators either were related to holding office or were meant as reimbursement for money he spent elsewhere related to public service and never recouped.
But elections officials said that not only were those expenses improper but that Hartsell did not properly disclose that spending. Prosecutors agreed that the former lawmaker had filed misleading and incomplete public disclosures.
"These misrepresentations misled anyone reviewing these disclosure reports and considering donating to the Hartsell campaign committee into believing that Hartsell campaign committee funds were being spent on permissible items and services," according to a document prosecutors filed with the court this week.
While misusing that money is a state crime, federal prosecutors dialed in on the fact that, when Hartsell used the money for personal purposes, he was essentially taking income that he never reported on his taxes. It is that failure to report what amounts to extra income to which Hartsell pleaded guilty.