Local Politics

Ethics Committee to Proceed Against Wright

Posted December 12, 2007 4:41 p.m. EST
Updated December 12, 2007 8:41 p.m. EST

— State lawmakers said Wednesday that they plan to proceed with ethics hearings for an indicted Wilmington legislator.

State Rep. Thomas Wright, D-New Hanover, was indicted Monday on five counts of obtaining property by false pretense and one count of obstruction of justice in connection with unreported campaign contributions and two allegedly fraudulent loans.

Wright has been unavailable for comment since a Wake County grand jury returned the indictments. He previously said he had no intention of stepping down, saying voters should decide whether he remains in office.

House Speaker Joe Hackney on Tuesday requested that the Legislative Ethics Committee finish its investigation into Wright's activities. The committee had suspended its inquiry at the request of Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby so as not to jeopardize the criminal investigation.

Committee leaders announced Wednesday that they had collected enough evidence against Wright to hold hearings, which likely would be scheduled for February.

"We have authority to judge our own members, and when allegations which are this serious come to our attention, we have the obligation to investigate," Hackney said.

The ethics committee will review one fraud charge against Wright alleging that he used his position to influence a state official to write a letter to help him obtain a $150,000 for a real estate deal in Wilmington.

The committee said none of the other allegations against Wright fell within its purview because they didn't occur in the course of Wright's duties as a lawmaker. Those allegations include accepting $185,000 in unreported campaign donations and diverting almost $19,000 in contributions and loans into his personal accounts when they were supposed to go into a fund he directs.

Hackney said a special committee would be appointed to consider those charges.

The hearings could lead to lawmakers voting in a special session of the General Assembly next spring to remove Wright from office, which would mark the first time in more than a century that legislators expelled a member.