Local Politics

Ex-House Speaker Black Expected to be Sentenced Today

Posted July 11, 2007 5:38 a.m. EDT
Updated July 11, 2007 9:15 a.m. EDT

— On Wednesday, former House Speaker Jim Black will learn the price for public corruption.

The 72-year-old Mecklenburg County Democrat is expected to be sentenced in federal court for accepting more than $25,000 from chiropractors in exchange for backing legislation favorable to the industry.

The former lawmaker faces a maximum of 10 years in prison, but his attorneys are asking U.S. District Court Judge Terrence Boyle to consider allowing Black to serve community service instead of spending time in prison.

Black, who is an optrometrist, would offer free eye exams for needy children. Sen. Neal Hunt, R-Wake, said that would be 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," he said.

Former political consultant Joe Sinsheimer expects Black to get a prison sentence and not simply community service.

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

In federal court, prosecutors presented evidence in February showing Black accepted a total of about $25,000 in cash on four occasions between February 2002 and December 2005 from three chiropractors as a "reward" for his efforts in state government. Black and the chiropractors met twice in restaurant bathrooms to make the cash transfers.

In court documents, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Bruce and Dennis Duffy told Boyle that Black should not get a light sentence because he provided little help when questioned by federal investigators and might have been less than honest.

They also alleged Black received a $500,000 check from a lobbyist in June 2000 that was deposited directly into his campaign account. Black then wrote a check from his campaign account for the same amount back to the lobbyist. But shortly thereafter, Black made another $500,000 deposit into his campaign account and reported it in campaign filings as a personal loan.

Several of Black's associates who have been the subject of investigations have already been convicted. Former political ally Scott Edwards pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice. Former lottery commissioner Kevin Geddings, who was appointed by Black, is serving four years in federal prison for trying to hide his financial ties to a lottery company.

Former lawmaker Michael Decker was sentenced to four years after he admitted he accepted a bribe to switch parties which kept Black in power as House Speaker. Meredith Norris, Black's former political director, was found guilty of violating state lobbying laws last year.