Local Politics

Wright Denies Committing Fraud

Posted April 3, 2008

— Former state Rep. Thomas Wright on Thursday offered a much-anticipated explanation to defend himself against allegations that he schemed to obtain a $150,000 loan and pocketed contributions to a nonprofit.

The Wilmington Democrat, who was expelled from the House last month for ethical misconduct, is charged with four counts of fraud. Jurors were expected to get the case Friday, and Wright faces nearly 10 years in prison if convicted on all four felony counts.

The charges stem from $8,900 in corporate donations to a health care foundation Wright operated that wound up in his personal account and from a $150,000 loan that prosecutors said he obtained illegally.

When House members overwhelmingly voted to oust Wright from office, many expressed dismay that he never tried to explain his actions.

Wright, who is seeking to have his expulsion overturned in court, called the criminal case against him politically motivated because he didn't support a Democratic candidate for state Senate.

"I wasn't the typical Democrat," he testified. "I didn't support the entire Democratic ticket, so it made some people very upset."

On Tuesday, a former state health official and a bank loan officer testified about a $150,000 loan Wright received in 2002 to buy a Wilmington building for a museum dedicated to the 1898 race riots.

The state official said Wright asked him to write a letter claiming a state grant would pay off the loan when both men knew no grant existed. The loan officer said he didn't require the letter to approve the loan.

Wright insisted Thursday that he never used the letter to obtain the loan. He also said he had little to do with setting up the financing that led to the purchase of the building.

"Wasn't there a sense of urgency because you needed this letter for the bank? You didn't need the money but you needed the letter to show the bank?" Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby asked.

"No, sir, absolutely not," Wright replied.

He pointed out that the letter was written 10 days after the loan was approved and that the building was valued at more than the loan value.

Lobbyists for Anheuser-Busch, AT&T and AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals testified Wednesday that their checks to the Community Health Foundation were never intended as gifts to Wright. But at least one said he had no problem with Wright using the money to reimburse himself for his work with the foundation.

Wright said he solicited the money to make payments on the loan, although he never told the lobbyists of his intention. But he said he put the checks in his personal account when it was obvious the loan was in default and the bank would foreclose on the building.

"The bank wanted $150,000 back. I sincerely didn't think $7,000, $8,000 would make a difference to them," he said. "I offered that. I offered to renegotiate, to pay interest and all of that. They didn't want it."

Wright said he had put almost $7,000 of his own money into starting the foundation. Although he has maintained he used the donations to pay for some of his "sweat equity," he acknowledged Thursday that he shouldn't have put the corporate checks directly into his account.

Defense attorney Douglas Harris has maintained that Wright is guilty of only sloppy bookkeeping, saying the eight-term lawmaker was more concerned about helping his community than in tending to financial details.

Joyce Wright, Wright's wife, backed up that characterization of her husband in testimony Thursday morning. She said she has often found checks lying around the house that have gone uncashed for years.


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  • kenloe3981 Apr 4, 2008

    Any way you look at it he is just another person trying to play the race card. They were out to get him because he brought up some race riot back in the late 1800s? What does him stealing have to do with anyone out to him? Give me a break!

  • ohmygosh Apr 4, 2008

    The sad thing is that people in his district would probably still re-elect him. His constituants apparently see nothing wrong with such stealing.

  • ncteacher22 Apr 4, 2008

    "I wasn't the typical Democrat"...no sir, you weren't. You also weren't the typical Representative that people should be able to trust!

  • whatusay Apr 4, 2008

    The letter was written 2 weeks after the loan was approved...Why didn't the DA ask Wright - "then why did you insist of the letter if it was not needed"?

  • Sandollar Apr 4, 2008

    No matter who's wife said he let checks sit around the house for years. Looks like not only is there sloppy bookkeeping, but house cleaning has issues too. He's a crook committing fraud. He was supposed to be smart enough to make laws. He has had more than enough time to get some kind of paper trail for a defense, if there was one. He's the laughing stock of the party.

  • southern wisdom Apr 4, 2008

    sp perjury

  • southern wisdom Apr 4, 2008

    Does the term purjury come to mind?

  • bs101fly Apr 3, 2008

    yes, ALL politicians are innocent!!

  • djofraleigh Apr 3, 2008

    Nothing said today couldn't have been said to reporters or to the assembly...so what is this? The assembly kicking him out was FAIR if judged by this withheld, saved testimony

    Sounds like the DA played the letter wrong to me...and he isn't charged with having a false letter done (which he says 'might have been altered') but that he used it to get the loan. Hope Willowby got testimony that the letter was said to be forthcoming by Wright to the bank. And the money, 'sweat equity' covers anything and everything and at any amount. If the jury buys it, which I don't, then the assembly gets a signal of having a free rein.

    I see this trial as a test of the whole government of NC. Who is going to limit the corporate money going to influence lawmakers? What limits are there? Black gave me confidence, for I never thought he would serve time. The Democratic Party has a chance to ride high this year, but can it stem the tide, for 48% of the vote has been going Republican on a state level,

  • weasleyes Apr 3, 2008

    This man will never serve a day in prison!