RALEIGH, N.C. — A former North Carolina congressman walked into the Federal Courthouse in Raleigh in handcuffs Friday morning. Frank Ballance was only in court for minutes, but it could be months before he learns his punishment.
Ballance arrived at the courthouse around 11 a.m. Federal agents handcuffed Ballance, then took him inside for a first court appearance that lasted only minutes.
On Thursday, a federal grand jury handed down an indictment against Ballance, charging him with one count of conspiracy to commit honest services mail fraud, mail fraud of money and money laundering. The charge is a felony punishable by a maximum of five years in prison, but Ballance is expected to accept a plea agreement for a reduced prison sentence.
Prosecutors say Ballance funneled more than $2 million in state taxpayer money into the Hyman Foundation substance abuse center he founded in Warren County.
Ballance is accused of defrauding the state by illegally directing at least $100,000 of the money to benefit himself, friends and family.
"This issue is obviously a very serious one," Ballance said. "I've acknowledged in the past that I've made mistakes. I take responsibility for them. I've disappointed some people, particularly my family members, friends and supporters."
Atr least one of those supporters, the daughter of former state Rep. Eva Clayton, was in the court. Clayton once represented the area that Ballance had represented.
"I'm just here to show love and support for Frank Ballance and his family -- just to let him know that there are friends who believe in him and care for him," Joanne Clayton said.
Ballance resigned from Congress in June, citing health problems. He also cited stress from the ongoing federal investigation in the Hyman Foundation.
G.K. Butterfield, who took over Ballance's seat in Congress said in a statement, "I extend my thoughts and prayers to Frank Ballance as he faces the days ahead. For more than 20 years of public service, Frank Ballance contributed much to the community and helped improve the quality of life for many people in North Carolina. It is my hope that this unfortunate case can be quickly resolved so that justice is served."
After Ballance appeared in court, he was released. He faces up to five years in prison, but is expected to reach a plea deal in the coming months that will include at least some active prison time.
The grand jury also indicted Ballance's son, Garey, a district court judge. He is charged with a misdemeanor.