Local Politics

Extent of Corruption Could Be Revealed In Black's State Case

Posted February 19, 2007 12:20 p.m. EST
Updated February 20, 2007 11:45 a.m. EST

— Five days after pleading guilty to a federal corruption charge, former House Speaker Jim Black is expected to appear in state court Tuesday.

Wake County Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens said he has scheduled a special court proceeding at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday at the request of Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby.
  • 11:30 a.m.: Watch hearing LIVE on WRAL.com and WRAL NewsChannel
Willoughby wouldn't confirm that the proceeding involves Black, but various sources told WRAL that a state investigation into political corruption would end up in Wake County court.

A person familiar with the state investigation into Black told the Associated Press that the former House speaker would enter a plea to at least one state charge. Speaking on condition of anonymity because court documents had not yet been filed, the person didn't know the precise criminal charge but said Black would accept an Alford plea, which allows a defendant to acknowledge that the evidence could result in a conviction but doesn't require him to acknowledge guilt.

Black pleaded guilty last Thursday to accepting cash payments from chiropractors between 2000 and 2005 in exchange for backing legislation favorable to the industry. He will be sentenced in May, when he faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The plea resulted from a federal investigation into corruption in the General Assembly. State authorities are conducting a parallel investigation.

Joe Sinsheimer, a longtime legislative watchdog and Black critic, said he hopes a state court hearing will clear up questions left by the federal plea and clarify the extent of the legislative corruption.

The federal court documents didn't name the chiropractors who handed over $25,000 in cash to Black to influence legislation. There also was no mention of Michael Decker, the ex-lawmaker implicated the leader in a party switch payoff that helped keep Black in power four years ago.

"We haven't learned whether or not the cash money that the speaker took was at all connected to the Michael Decker case," Sinsheimer said. "I think what the Michael Decker case has done is given state and federal prosecutors a road map about which special interests were willing to do Speaker Black's bidding."

Chiropractors Fletcher Keith and Steve Willen testified last year during a State Board of Elections hearing into Black's fundraising practices. According to campaign finance reports, both Black supporters also gave money to Decker's campaign right around the same time he switched parties.

It's unclear whether Tuesday's court hearing would involved a possible plea or details on state criminal charges.

Black, who served as House speaker for a record eight years, resigned his legislative seat last Wednesday to comply with a state law that bars felons from holding public office.