Local Politics

Wright Released on Bond After Surrender

Posted December 14, 2007 12:32 p.m. EST
Updated December 14, 2007 8:21 p.m. EST

— Indicted state Rep. Thomas Wright surrendered to authorities in Raleigh on Friday morning and was arraigned and released on bond.

Wright, an eight-term Democrat from New Hanover County, 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.

Smiling and waving to reporters, he appeared in the Wake County magistrate's office, flanked by two State Bureau of Investigation agents. After being processed, he was released on a $50,000 unsecured bond.

Wright declined to comment on the accusations as he left the Wake County Courthouse with his wife. Noting the crowd of reporters and photographers covering his brief appearance, however, he remarked, "You would have thought I murdered somebody."

Unlike former House Speaker Jim Black and other officials charged with crimes in the past few years, Wright has refused to resign, saying the voters would determine whether he remains in office.

"It's really an insult to the North Carolina taxpayers that he continues to hold office and we have to support him financially," said Joe Sinsheimer, a former political consultant whose complaint last year prompted the State Board of Elections to begin examining Wright's campaign finances.

"North Carolina's had a reputation for a long time as being a clean-government state, and we've really put that reputation in jeopardy over the last couple of years," Sinsheimer said.

The Legislative Ethics Committee announced Wednesday that it would review one fraud charge against Wright, an allegation that he used his position to influence a state official to write a letter to help him obtain a $150,000 loan for a real estate deal in Wilmington.

House Speaker Joe Hackney on Friday appointed six lawmakers to a special committee to examine the other charges against Wright. The ethics committee cannot review them because they are not related to his work as a legislator.

The 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.

Rep. Rick Glazier, D-Cumberland, will chair the special committee, and Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, will be vice chairman. Other members are Reps. Marvin Lucas, D-Cumberland; William McGee, R-Forsyth; Edith Warren, D-Pitt; and Laura Wiley, R-Guilford.

The committee 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.

Wright is scheduled to appear in court on Dec. 31.