Local Politics

Embattled Lawmaker's Loan Draws Scrutiny

Posted November 15, 2007 3:23 p.m. EST
Updated November 15, 2007 4:18 p.m. EST

— In the latest criminal investigation involving an embattled state lawmaker, authorities last week seized bank records related to a 2001 loan that they said never wound up with a nonprofit organization.

The State Bureau of Investigation executed a search warrant at the North Carolina Minority Support Center in Durham on Nov. 5 and seized records related to New Hanover Community Health Foundation. State Rep. Thomas Wright, D-New Hanover, chairs the organization's board of directors.

Wright, a former ally of disgraced former House Speaker Jim Black, already is under investigation for campaign finance reporting and a real estate deal in Wilmington.

An affidavit filed by SBI Special Agent Rufus Williams states that the records seized last week are being examined as part of an investigation into obtaining property by false pretense.

Wright took out a loan in October 2001 in the name of the health foundation, but the funds were never deposited in the foundation's bank account, according to the affidavit. The size of the loan isn't disclosed.

"The SBI investigation determined that Representative Thomas Wright took money belonging to The Community's Health Foundation Inc. on multiple occasions," Williams said in the the affidavit.

The State Board of Elections determined that Wright deposited three checks made out to the foundation into his personal bank account in 2004 and 2004. The checks, which totaled $8,900, were from AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals, Anheuser-Busch and AT&T.

The elections board in May turned the findings of its investigation into Wright's campaign finances over to the Wake County District Attorney's Office for possible criminal charges. The board was looking into more than $119,000 that political committees reported giving to Wright's campaign since 1992 but that the campaign never identified as receiving.

The SBI also has seized bank records related to Wright's purchase of a building for a museum dedicated to the 1898 Wilmington Race Riot. Wright used his influence to obtain a letter suggesting that state financing would back the museum project when he knew that wasn't true, authorities said.

Wright has refused to step down, saying voters should decide whether he remains in office.