State probing sweepstakes campaign donations
Posted June 11, 2014
RALEIGH, N.C. — The State Bureau of Investigation is probing campaign donations provided to North Carolina politicians by the video sweepstakes industry.
North Carolina Department of Justice spokeswoman Noelle Talley confirmed Wednesday the criminal investigation into possible public corruption, which she said began in 2013. Talley said the probe was prompted by requests from federal and state prosecutors in Raleigh.
Talley would not specify the targets of the investigation.
The Associated Press reported last year that political donations from Oklahoma gaming software provider Chase E. Burns may have violated state laws prohibiting corporate money from funding political campaigns. The Republican campaigns of Gov. Pat McCrory, House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate leader Phil Berger gave to charity thousands in donations linked to Burns after he was charged with running an illegal gambling enterprise in Florida.
McCrory, Berger and Tillis have denied any wrongdoing in taking the donations from the software provider.
GOP lawmakers are currently proposing to remove the SBI from the supervision of Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper and place the agency under McCrory's control. An amendment to the House budget that would have left the SBI in the Attorney General's Office was defeated shortly after news of the investigation broke.
"This is an example of the type of public corruption investigation we're concerned could be thwarted or repressed by not giving prosecutors access to an independent investigative team like they currently have with the SBI," Talley said. "DAs and U,S, attorneys rely on an independent SBI to investigate public corruption. They don't want the SBI to answer to the very people they may be investigating or who may have had a part in legislative confirmation of their director."
McCrory hasn't been contacted about the investigation, spokesman Josh Ellis said, adding that the governor wants to prevent the SBI from being politicized, regardless of where it ends up.
"We are still reviewing all proposals, but the governor believes there should be no politicization regardless of whether the SBI is located in the Attorney General's Office or the Department of Public Safety," Ellis said in an email. "Additionally, we are not aware that there are any plans to change the process by which investigations can be requested or limit the rights of local law enforcement to request assistance."
Berger said he has no knowledge of the investigation, nor has he or any of his staff been questioned by investigators. He also said he has received no subpoenas related to the issue.
Anna Roberts, a spokeswoman for Tillis, said the speaker likewise was not aware of the SBI investigation.
"He has not been interviewed or subpoenaed and, to our knowledge, no staff member has been interviewed or subpoenaed," Roberts said.
The checking account used last year to make $235,000 in donations to the campaigns of dozens of North Carolina politicians from both political parties contained the laundered proceeds of a criminal gambling enterprise, according to Oklahoma's top law enforcement official.
The donations were drawn from one of several accounts tied to Burns, who lives in Anadarko, Okla. In September, he pleaded no contest in Florida to two criminal counts of assisting in the operation of a lottery. As part of a plea deal, prosecutors dropped 205 felony counts against Burns, including racketeering and money laundering charges.
In November, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt finalized a separate agreement in which Burns agreed to forfeit $3.5 million from bank accounts seized as part of the investigation. According to Pruitt, the money came directly from the "laundered proceeds" of Burns' sweepstakes software company, International Internet Technologies.
Court filings reviewed by The Associated Press show $1 million of that forfeited money came from a checking account in the name of the Chase Burns Trust — the same account used to send the donations to political campaigns in North Carolina.