Local Politics

Former Black Ally Sentenced to 4 Years in Prison

Posted April 27, 2007 2:43 p.m. EDT
Updated April 27, 2007 7:25 p.m. EDT

— A tearfully repentant Michael Decker was sentenced to four years in prison Friday for illegally accepting $50,000 in campaign donations and cash in a political corruption investigation that toppled former House Speaker Jim Black.

The former state representative, whose two-decade legislative career ended in the backlash of his affiliation with Black, apologized for what U.S. District Judge James C. Dever III called "an epic betrayal" of the state's citizens and government.

"No amount of sorrow erases the actions that you take," Decker said in a choked voice as his wife, seated behind him, dabbed at her eyes with a tissue.

His lawyer and even federal prosecutors asked Dever for leniency, saying Decker's cooperation was crucial in breaking the case against Black, who awaits sentencing on state and federal corruption charges.

But the judge focused on Decker's crime, saying he and Black betrayed the constitutions they swore to protect and the citizens they were elected to represent.

Their conspiracy tarnished the reputations of lawmakers past, present and future and "provides venom for the false notion that all politicians are corrupt. They are not," Dever said.

Decker, who had faced up to five years in prison, will remain free for at least another month and a half in case his testimony is needed when Black is sentenced in state and federal court.

He was also fined $50,000 and must spend two years on supervised release after his prison term ends.

Decker, 62, pleaded guilty to conspiracy in August, admitting he solicited and accepted money to support Black for House speaker in early 2003. Decker, a Republican from Walkertown, switched to the Democratic Party in a move that ultimately helped Black, D-Mecklenburg, win re-election as co-speaker.

Decker switched back to the GOP in the fall of 2003, but was soundly defeated in the primary when he sought re-election in 2004.

In an interview with authorities in June 2005, Decker denied that Black offered him anything to switch parties. But nine months later, he said he met Black at a Salisbury restaurant in late 2002 and told Black he would support him in return for $50,000. Black agreed, according to Decker, who said he received $38,000 in campaign checks and $12,000 in cash.

Black has denied that the payments were a bribe, and his plea to state charges based on the exchange did not include an admission of guilt. He pleaded guilty in federal court to taking money from chiropractors to support their agenda in the Legislature and is due to be sentenced May 14.

Defense attorney David Freedman insisted that Decker came forward of his own accord in March 2006, after hearing Black testify before the State Board of Elections about campaign finance irregularities.

Decker, who had refused to testify before the board, was conscience-stricken when he heard Black speak falsely, Freedman said, choosing to go to prosecutors even though he was in no imminent danger of being charged.

"He couldn't live with himself, hearing in public this tale being told," Freedman said. "He had the fortitude to come forward and say these things because he felt it was the right thing to do, and he still feels that way today."

Prosecutor John Stuart Bruce agreed that the state and federal governments' case was nowhere near complete at that point, with indications that Decker had taken favors but no evidence of a "quid pro quo" agreement to help Black in return.

Once Decker cooperated, other Black associates fell into line - notably the three chiropractors who finally acknowledged paying Black, Bruce said.

Outside the courtroom, Decker and his lawyer said they won't appeal the sentence.

"I want to pay my penalty and then start my life again," Decker said.