Local Politics

Black Gets Extension to Pay $1M Fine

Posted December 7, 2007 4:45 p.m. EST
Updated December 7, 2007 5:50 p.m. EST

— Disgraced former state House Speaker Jim Black on Friday was granted an extension to pay a $1 million fine on a state obstruction of justice conviction.

Black pleaded guilty in February to bribery and obstruction charges and was supposed to have paid the fine by next Monday or face the possibility of extra prison time.

The 72-year-old Mecklenburg County Democrat had planned to sell property he owns in the Charlotte area to pay off the fine. However, said Whit Powell, a Raleigh lawyer representing Black, potential buyers knew of the deadline to pay the fine and have been waiting Black out to get a better deal.

Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens approved the motion for an extension until July 1 to pay the fine. Black is providing the court with a promissory note and deed of trust, which guarantee that the state will take control of the property if it isn't sold by then, Powell said.

Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby and the Wake County school system, which receives proceeds from criminal fines and forfeitures, don't oppose the extension, Powell said.

Black is serving a 63-month sentence in a federal prison camp in Lewisburg, Pa., after pleading guilty in February to a political corruption charge.

He had served a record eight years as House speaker and was a legendary legislative dealmaker and Democratic Party fundraiser before resigning his seat in February and pleading guilty to state and federal charges.

The bribery charge stemmed from Black's actions in early 2003 after the Republicans had won a narrow majority in the House.

Former Forsyth County Rep. Michael Decker said Black gave him $50,000 to switch to the Democratic Party and back his candidacy for speaker, allowing Black to forge a power-sharing agreement with former GOP Rep. Richard Morgan. Authorities said much of the money given to Decker came from campaign donations from optometrists across North Carolina – Black is an optometrist – in which the payee line on the checks had been left blank.

The obstruction of justice charge stemmed from allegations that Black encouraged chiropractors to fudge when speaking to authorities about cash they had given to him. The cash payments, which topped $25,000, were the basis of the federal corruption charge because Black accepted the money while backing legislation favorable to the industry.

Stephens sentenced Black to eight to 10 months in prison on the obstruction charge, but said he would withhold sentencing on the bribery charge until Black paid his $1 million fine. If Black met the Dec. 10 deadline, he would receive a 19- to 23-month sentence, and both sentences would run concurrently with his federal sentence.

Stephens had said he would impose a harsher sentence if Black failed to meet the deadline for the fine.