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Lobbyists: Donations Not Gifts to Wright

Posted April 2, 2008

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— Prosecutors spent Wednesday trying to prove that former state Rep. Thomas Wright pocketed corporate donations intended for a nonprofit foundation he runs.

Wright, who was expelled from the House last month, is charged with four counts of fraud in connection with the $8,900 in donations and a $150,000 loan that prosecutors said he obtained illegally.

The prosecution was expected to wrap up its case Thursday morning, and Wright was expected to testify in his defense.

Anheuser-Busch, AT&T and AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals wrote checks in late 2003 and early 2004 to the Community Health Foundation, an organization Wright created. The checks were deposited in Wright's personal bank account.

Three lobbyists testified that money given by their companies to Wright were donations to the foundation, not a personal gift.

"Did you intend for Rep. Wright to use the money personally?" Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby asked.

"No," replied John Pollicastro, who formerly worked for AT&T.

"Did you intend for him to put this in his personal bank account?" Willoughby asked.

"No," Pollicastro said.

Under cross-examination, one of the lobbyists said he had no objection to Wright reimbursing himself for expenses incurred while running the foundation.

"If it was a legitimate expense, I have no problem with it whatsoever," said Brian Shank, who was a lobbyist at AstraZeneca when the company gave to Wright's foundation.

Wright has said previously he took the money to pay for his "sweat equity" in getting the foundation off the ground.

Defense attorney Douglas Harris said Wednesday that Wright deposited the checks into his personal account because the foundation's account had already closed, but Willoughby countered that the checks had been written long before the foundation account closed.

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.

Lewis McKinney, a government relations executive for Anheuser-Busch whose responsibilities once included North Carolina, said Wednesday that Wright asked the St. Louis brewer for a donation to help with the building.

"We give a contribution to an organization, and what the organization decides to do with the building (is) completely up to the organization," he said.

McKinney said he didn't know the bank had already begun foreclosure proceedings when he gave the money. But he said that wouldn't have stopped him from making the donation since he was familiar with Wright's work on health care issues in southeastern North Carolina.

"I don't think I would have hesitated to move the request forward because (Wright) asked me," he said.

Jurors also heard testimony Wednesday from a credit union official who said that Wright had defaulted on a $10,000 loan he sought for the foundation in 2001.

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.

Wright, a Wilmington Democrat, has denied the allegations of wrongdoing and has asked a court to reverse his expulsion from the House. He could be sentenced to nearly 10 years in prison if convicted on all four counts of felony fraud.

31 Comments

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  • RonnieR Apr 3, 2008

    I'm sute IRS Intelligence (what an oxymoron, maybe thay've
    changed their name) Agents are folowing Wright's case.

  • native son Apr 2, 2008

    Wright has said previously he took the money to pay for his "sweat equity" in getting the foundation off the ground.

    LOL

  • Apr 2, 2008

    Can anyone tell me just what Rep. Wright did for his community in regards to this money...I can't find a thing he done with this money except "pay himself for sweat equity"...MUST have been real tiresome and labor intensive to carry and spend other people's money...I WANT that job!!!!!

  • ridgerunner Apr 2, 2008

    Daisy- Wright was kicked out for ethics violations, and just try telling the IRS you deserve money for "sweat equity" and see where that gets you.

  • Tax Man Apr 2, 2008

    colliedave, the checks were made to the non-profit but this turkey deposited them into his personal bank account - now how did the bank let him do that??? Remember, a non-profit cannot give any of its funds to the organizers of the non-profit or any other individual or business except other non-profits. And, the non-profit cannot do anything political. Here you have a crook, liar and thief who "stole" from the non-profit, taking the money away from the intended recipients who were to be taken care of by the non-profit. The IRS should take away the non-profit status and require Wright to pay all the money over to a "real" charity - just before he goes to prison for 11 years. Nail him, please. He is not a sloppy bookkeeper, just a stupid crook.

  • colliedave Apr 2, 2008

    I may not be the brighest bulb in the shed, but I don't remember reading if the checks were made out to Wright or his founation.

    Also, if the foundation of a 501-3C variety it must have a board of directors and keep minutes of the meetings. Wonder if anyone on the board received any "reimbursements"?

  • davidgnews Apr 2, 2008

    Aside from crooked politicians, lobbyists (=liars) are the bane of our so-called democracy !!!

  • alx Apr 2, 2008

    he should make the people in wilmington real proud

  • djofraleigh Apr 2, 2008

    "here is my question...why was he kicked out before he was found guilty of any charges? Nothing happened to Jim Black until he was found guilty." -- Daisy

    Jim Black resigned before the trial. Had Wright resigned in hte beginning, he would probably not be standing trial.

    Did the DA not tell HOW Wright spent the money meant for poor people's health care and the race riot museum? Why not report that?

    The lobbyists apparently BRIBE legislators indirectly by giving to their PET charities, which the legislators PROFIT from. To me, that is a bribe and must stop. WRAL and N&O, I challenge you to dig into the Assembly's back door bribery. If there is NO law, then there should be. This is akin to the scholarship money going 10% to the family of the black caucus. Jim Black was getting money in the bathrooms. Don't even look at the appointees of the Lottery. The root of all evil...

  • RocknRollDoctor Apr 2, 2008

    There is a great need for a speedy trial here. His district remains without representation until this matter is cleared.

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