Local Politics

New Elections Probe Looks at Black Ally

Posted March 9, 2007 7:21 p.m. EST

— The State Board of Elections, which began the corruption investigation that eventually brought down state Rep. Jim Black, is focused on one of the former House speaker's allies, Rep. Thomas Wright, D-New Hanover County.

As a result, a lawmaker is once again fighting allegations that involve political money and influence.

Board investigators are looking into allegations that Wright tried to hide contributions from landfill developers.

Critics claim special interests bought favor with Thomas Wright. The veteran Wilmington lawmaker complains, instead, it is opposing special interests that want to destroy him.

Gary O. Bartlett, Elections Board executive director, said Friday that the investigation turned criminal when it became difficult to get to the bottom of the apparent campaign violations.

"We have not gotten a response from Representative Wright," he said.

If Wright knowingly signed false campaign reports he could face perjury charges, as did optometrist Scott Edwards. Both men have political ties to Black.

The “criminal” status closes files in the case to the public pending an outcome. Board officials said that protects the integrity of the investigation and protects Wright.

Wrights’ opponents also claim that, as chairman of the health committee, he single-handedly killed legislation that nurse-anesthetists opposed, then took campaign money from them.

Rep. Cary D. Allred, R-Alamance County, said it does not look good to have an ongoing investigation.

“I think that the public has received the impression that legislation is for sale to the highest bidder,” Allred said. He sits on the health committee and said he thinks the allegations against Wright are becoming too much of a distraction.

“I think that he should go ahead and step aside,” the Republican said of the Democratic chairman.

Wright told WRAL he has committed no crime.

"There's no sense to resign when I'm not guilty of anything. We're cooperating. Give me a chance to clear this up,” Wright said. He also said he and his attorney will make an official response to the board soon.