Local Politics

Black Pleads to Bribery, Obstruction Charges

Posted February 20, 2007

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— For the second time in a week, former House Speaker Jim Black faced a judge Tuesday and entered a plea on corruption charges.

Black entered an Alford plea to offering a bribe and obstruction of justice in connection with campaign donations received from North Carolina optometrists.

The plea allows Black to avoid admitting guilt to the felony charges while acknowledging that the state had enough evidence against him for a conviction. Wake County Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens will sentence Black later, after his May 14 federal sentencing.

Black pleaded guilty last Thursday to a federal charge of accepting cash payments from chiropractors between 2000 and 2005 in exchange for backing legislation favorable to the industry. He will be sentenced in May, when he faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Joe Sinsheimer, a longtime legislative watchdog and Black critic, said the revelations of cash payoffs and back-room deals are typical of the legislative culture in Raleigh.

"It fits a pattern that the speaker has employed for years of doling out grants, campaign money, slush fund appropriations -- all to members to retain their political support," Sinsheimer said.

Black could face another 18 to 22 months in prison on the state charges in addition to the federal sentence. But Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby said the state sentence could be shortened if Black cooperates with investigators trying to root out more political corruption.

"I think the investigation is ongoing. We'll see where the facts and the evidence lead," Willoughby said.

Black's plea last week resulted from a federal investigation into corruption in the General Assembly. State authorities conducted a parallel investigation that resulted in Tuesday's plea.

Kim Strach, deputy director of the State Board of Elections, testified Tuesday that the North Carolina Optometric Society PAC forwarded checks with blank payee lines to Black's campaign. Black then handed over checks totaling $12,000 to former Rep. Michael Decker, she said.

Decker switched parties days before the 2003-04 legislative session, giving Democrats to gain a 60-60 split in the state House and allowing Black to retain a share of the speaker's office.

Black testified before the Board of Elections last year that he filled in the payee lines on some checks from optometrists but that he felt the practice didn't violate any laws.

Randy Myers, assistant special agent-in-charge for the State Bureau of Investigation, testified that Decker didn't disclose receiving money from optometrists and that he deposited $4,000 in checks in his personal bank account.

At a November 2002 meeting at an International House of Pancakes in Salisbury, Decker told Black he would switch parties in exchange for $50,000, Myers testified. Black told Decker he would give the money in the form of campaign checks, Myers said.

The two men met in Black's office in early 2003, when Black handed Decker a manila envelope containing $12,000 in cash and about $37,000 in campaign checks, Myers testified. The meeting was one of several between them, including one in the spring of 2003 when Decker complained that a state job promised to his son as part of the party-switch deal didn't pay enough, Myers said.

Black handed Decker $4,000 in blank payee checks from optometrists to make up the salary difference for Decker's son, Myers said.

Strach testified that Black also solicited $46,350 in campaign donations from chiropractors, lawyers and others for Decker. Decker reported only one contribution from Black's campaign, she said.

The cash payments from chiropractors that were at the heart of the federal case against Black also were involved in the state charges.

Myers testified that Black went to Fletcher Keith, one of the chiropractors who made the payments to Black, last summer to ask him to downplay the payments to a grand jury investigating the transactions.

Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby said in court that authorities believe part of the cash payments made by the chiropractors were turned over by Black to Decker.

Defense attorney Ken Bell said Black would deny giving any of the chiropractors' cash to Decker. Also, Bell said, Black continues to dispute the illegality of the practice of accepting campaign checks with blank payee lines.

"Mr. Decker is unworthy of belief, but if a jury were to believe the story he just laid out through (Myers), Dr. Black realizes that could lead to a conviction," Bell said.

Black, 71, was silent for most of Tuesday's court hearing, except to answer "Yes, sir" and "No, sir" to Stephens' questions.

"I would like to clearly take full responsibility of taking cash from three chiropractors," Black said in his only statement toward the end of the hearing.

After serving as House speaker for a record eight years, Black resigned his legislative seat last Wednesday to comply with a state law that bars felons from holding public office.

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  • Haygrower Feb 21, 2007

    Leavenc----If any of you haven't read this article go back and read it,thats tell'n it like it is------ thanks leave

  • Slip Kid Feb 21, 2007

    Oh yeah, he should go to prison for a loooooong time.

  • Slip Kid Feb 21, 2007

    After reading several accounts of the known details, I'm struck by the practised ease with which the money meetings, exchanges and methods were carried out. This shows me that Black and his cohorts had plenty of experience in 'finding' and distributing money and favors. Makes you realize just how much stink is being covered up elsewhere!

  • superman Feb 21, 2007

    Black should get a prison sentence, be forced to pay back the money, pay for the expenses incurred to investigate his case, and a stiff fine. He has been so professional in making deals in restrooms, he will be able to keep up his good work in prison. And so what if he is 71, he still needs to go to prison. This jerk may live to be 100.

  • North Carolina Home Feb 21, 2007

    Let's get one thing straight for the record.

    The business of state government in North Carolina is OWNED by the DEMOCRATIC PARTY. Always has been. In the two terms served by Gov. Jim Martin (R), members of his administration were widely referred to as tourists.

    DEMOCRATS OWN THIS MESS!!!! Don't EVEN try to create moral equivalency by citing US elected representatives troubles with ethics. That is THERE. This is right here in good old NC.

    This is the STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA'S shame and if elected REPUBLICAN REPRESENTATIVES got paid to play they need to be in a cell right beside Jim Black. Just remember that if that happens that they got paid by a democrat to be a democrat in republican cloth.

  • newport31259 Feb 21, 2007

    "That does not seem to be a good track record lately! Let the record speak for itself!"

    Just so you will know that the "track" has two lanes, here are some Republican names as well.

    Delay, Ney, Foley, Cunningham.

    Lots of folks, from both parties, seem to be on that track. Again, the common thread is not the party label, but it is greed and power. Seems to me that some folks have forgotten about those names listed above.

  • Haygrower Feb 21, 2007

    RedStates lets not forget the teacher of them all who left North Carolina in a mess---and those lasting words "I DID NOTHING WRONG".Politicians need to be held accountable ..

  • deerslayer Feb 21, 2007

    Frick all of this nonsense..put the dirtbag in prison where he belongs..no deals no excuses....end this garbage once and for all..put him in a cell next to Bush, Rumsfeld and Cheney...

  • RedStatesManWatts Feb 20, 2007

    Some of you seem to be a little upset at the talk of "ALL democrat leaders" are crooks in this state. Well, we have Frank Ballance, Meg Scott Phipps, Elaine Marshall's "Booze Cruise" that was paid by us and now Jim Black! That does not seem to be a good track record lately! Let the record speak for itself!

  • pinehurstace Feb 20, 2007

    Obviously, when the balance of power hung by a mere one person, the conspiracy to buy that one person wasn't just a corrupt Jim Black operating in a vacuum. With the control of billions of taxpayers' money on the line, anyone that thinks that knowledge of this corruption could not have extended beyond the most powerful party leader in the State, "who just made a mistake", is not grounded in reality. As the investigation continues, what party leadership in the democratic chain of command didn't have motive and opportunity? What are they going to say? We didn't know anything about it? The leader of our party just went off the deep end for himself? He paid off Michael Decker and we didn't know anything about it? We though Decker just saw the virtue of promising something for nothing in exchange for votes? The comments from the democratic party leadership on this is to say: "let's just move on". Not so fast! What did you know? When did you know about it? What have you done about it?