Local Politics

State employee group's ads in Wake DA race called dishonest

Posted April 24

— Direct-mail ads in the race for Wake County district attorney have prompted a fiery response from one candidate and an apology from another.

The State Employees Association of North Carolina has endorsed Assistant District Attorney Boz Zellinger in the Democratic primary but targeted his opponent, Lorrin Freeman, in a recent mailer.

Freeman currently serves as clerk of Wake County Superior Court, and two former employees were recently charged with conspiring with bail bondsmen to cheat the court system out of more than $1 million. The Wake County Public School System, which gets forfeited bonds, is trying to reclaim the money through legal action.

"If she can't manage a couple of clerks in her own office, how can we trust her to put Wake County's most dangerous criminals behind bars?" the SEANC mailer reads.

SEANC director Dana Cope said Thursday that his group is getting into the race because the Wake County district attorney prosecutes state government corruption cases.

"It looks like bail bondsmen were trying to buy her office in order to make sweetheart deals among themselves. We can't stand that in state government," Cope said.

An incensed Freeman pointed out that she was the one who called in the State Bureau of Investigation and District Attorney Colon Willoughby to look into the alleged bond scheme.

"Special interests are trying to buy the court system in Wake County, and it's wrong, and people need to stand up and say, 'This court system, the justice system, the district attorney is our attorney and represents us,'" Freeman said.

Willoughby, who stepped down last month as district attorney, said Freeman was the one who uncovered the scheme, and he takes issue with SEANC's criticism.

"The district attorney's office ought to be one about honesty and integrity. These ads are not honest, and I'm very disappointed," he said.

Some of Freeman's supporters said they believe the real reason she's being targeted is for speaking out about a SEANC lending program that she feels takes advantage of state employees.

An Atlanta company called Purchasing Power allows the SEANC's 55,000 members to buy items and then make monthly payments through payroll deductions over a year. The payment plans sometimes result in workers paying double the retail cost for items such as high-definition televisions, tablet computers and gaming consoles.

Cope scoffed at the allegation that the mailer is payback for Freeman's criticism.

Zellinger said he appreciates SEANC's endorsement, but he doesn't support the mailer. He said he said shared his concerns about it with the group's leaders.

"That mailer is not something I would have done, and of course, (it) didn't come from our campaign," he said. "I don't agree with thinking that she's corrupt or has done anything untoward."

Four candidates are running in the Republican primary for district attorney: John Walter Bryant, Jeff Cruden, Jefferson Griffin and Terry Swaim.

16 Comments

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  • carlomontenegro1 Apr 25, 5:16 p.m.

    How do the hard working State employees and members of SEANC react when they hear that Dana Cope has spent $150,000 on this smear campaign?A smear campaign against one of the most popular elected officials around, who is able to rally bi-partisan support in big numbers, at a time when there isn't much bi-partisan anything going around.

  • Tellyourfriends Apr 25, 3:06 p.m.

    Cont. from previous post:
    I do not think this is what the state employees want their organization to be known for. This should be an organization led by the members, not a dictator.

  • Tellyourfriends Apr 25, 2:13 p.m.

    State Employees should be furious! Think about this… 2 or 3 separate mailers have gone out, not to mention all the radio air time purchased (there are radio ads running). How much money has been spent? We are talking thousands of dollars and that is not including EMPAC money given to his campaign. State Employees haven’t had a raise in 5 years and they are spending that kind of money on what ?!! Dana needs to focus on things that matter to the state employees and do what he gets paid the big bucks to do. He does not need to spend the hard earned money of the state employees in a race that is not part of the goals that were voted on by the membership. SEANC has targeted a person of high integrity and incredible service to the citizens of Wake County and they are making the employees of the state look like a joke. Members, please do not stand by and let this happen, you need to stand up and take control of YOUR organization! SEANC has turned out to be a bullying organization and I do

  • carlomontenegro1 Apr 25, 1:57 p.m.

    Freeman has done a fantastic job as Wake Clerk, and that cannot be disputed. She cured 24 years of mismanagement and neglect in her first 2 years in office. The fact 2 of her employees (I think she has 170 in total) altered computer records to reflect that bonds were not forfeited is being used against her? When she discovered it? When she fired the employees? It's not like actual money went missing and the Clerk didn't notice. SEANC is retaliating. Freeman exposed their criminal lending practices and SEANC found a warm body to buy in case of future prosecution. Too bad for Zellinger, but he needs to denounce this.

  • Six String Apr 25, 1:28 p.m.

    A dishonest ad, shameful. Not about payback? For real? Gimme a break.

  • SaysWhoNC Apr 25, 11:34 a.m.

    "Mrs. Freeman caught this and put an end to it."

    After a year. $1M in taxpayer money went missing, and the boss had no clue. Fail.

  • ChuckRaleigh Apr 25, 11:24 a.m.

    What we should be worry about is how the bail bond industry profits from crime. The more crime in society, the more money they make. Other states have a deposit bond system, where the defendant pays a deposit to the Court rather than to the bail bondsmen. If found innocent, the defendant gets his money back (minus a processing fee). If found guilty, the deposit money goes to pay for victim restitution, probation fees, court costs, public defender fees - all of which save taxpayers money. From 2009-2011 there were 48 arrests of bail bondsmen listed on the Dept of Insurance web site. While there are some good honest ones, there are many that are criminals themselves. We also have two bail bondsmen in the Legislature who look out for the profit desires of their industry. What happened in Wake County is not unique. Mrs. Freeman caught this and put an end to it.

  • SaysWhoNC Apr 25, 10:40 a.m.

    Meanwhile, what about Republican district attorney candidate John Bryant's misleading claim that he has "prosecutorial experience" because he "prosecuted" a couple of wayward nurses before the nursing board?

    A lot of voters who don't know any better are dumb enough to fall for that load of hooey. They'll assume Bryant has prosecuted killers, rapists, robbers, and other dangerous criminals -- you know, the job of an actual district attorney.

    Tell us, WRAL: Which D.A. candidates from both parties have won any murder trials?

  • Paladin2 Apr 25, 10:09 a.m.

    Dana Cope has continued to be a "loose cannon". He is an embarrassment to state employees and carries too much baggage to be an effective representative.

  • SaysWhoNC Apr 25, 9:49 a.m.

    No fan of SEANC, but it sure looks like Freeman has a very poor handle on her office.

    Who lets $1 million go missing unnoticed?

    If Freeman can't handle running the clerk's office, she's not the right pick for D.A.

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