Local Politics

Prosecutors, Defense Jockey Over Black Sentence

Posted July 10, 2007 11:09 a.m. EDT
Updated July 10, 2007 7:08 p.m. EDT

— The positioning over the proper punishment for former House Speaker Jim Black on federal corruption charges continued Tuesday in the final day before he is sentenced.

Black faces up to 10 years in prison after he pleaded guilty in February to accepting more than $25,000 from chiropractors in exchange for backing legislation favorable to the industry.

Black's attorney requested a 35-day delay last week, saying the pre-sentence report compiled in the case sought a harsher prison sentence than earlier anticipated. Ken Bell asked U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle for extra time to prepare opposition to the report.

But Boyle never signed an order granting the delay, and the U.S. Attorney's Office in Raleigh issued an advisory Tuesday morning that the sentencing would be held at 9 a.m. Wednesday instead of 10 a.m.

Prosecutors filed court documents Monday calling for a stiff sentence, saying Black didn't help authorities investigate public corruption and had a history of questionable dealings.

In 2000, Black accepted a $500,000 donation from a lobbyist and never reported it. He wasn't prosecuted on the offense because the statute of limitations had passed, but authorities said it demonstrated his lack of credibility.

"The idea that the speaker would be soliciting $500,000 for any purpose from a single lobbyist shocks the imagination," said Joe Sinsheimer, a former political consultant who is a long-time Black critic.

Sinsheimer said he expects Black to be sentenced to more than four years in prison. Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina, said he also thinks Black deserves time behind bars.

"It would not serve the public well for a man of this level to have gotten away with what he did," said Hall, who filed the original complaint that launched a State Board of Elections investigation into Black's campaign finances.

Black's attorneys filed their own paperwork Monday, asking that the Charlotte-area optometrist pay his debt to society by opening an eye clinic for needy children.

Some people, including Republican Sen. Neal Hunt of Wake County, called that a practical sentence.

"He's not a threat to society. He's being punished. It's house arrest. He's helping this state. I can't see why not do it," Hunt said.

But Sinsheimer said it sends a bad message for Black, who also faces sentencing on state corruption charges, to get off without any jail time.

"The idea Jim Black would escape prison time is ridiculous and, quite frankly, if it happened, would set a terrible double standard," he said.