Probable Cause Found That Wright Broke Ethics Rules
Posted January 9, 2008 12:14 p.m. EST
Updated January 9, 2008 8:53 p.m. EST
Raleigh, N.C. — A panel of state lawmakers on Wednesday found probable cause to believe that Rep. Thomas Wright took part in campaign finance and loan fraud in violation of legislative ethics rules.
The six-member House Select Committee voted to proceed on eight counts of misconduct against Wright, an eight-term Democrat from New Hanover County.
A Wake County grand jury indicted Wright last month 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.
"It is a sad and disappointing day that this committee had to be in a position to move to find probable cause against a sitting representative," said committee co-chair Rep. Rick Glazier, D-Cumberland.
Neither Wright nor his attorney, Douglas Harris of Greensboro, attended Wednesday's hearing. Harris couldn't be reached for comment afterward.
The committee examined charges related to $185,000 in unreported campaign donations and allegations that Wright 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 and diverted almost $19,000 in contributions and loans into his personal accounts when they were supposed to go to a nonprofit organization he directs.
The panel was appointed because the Legislative Ethics Committee couldn't review most of the charges against Wright because they were unrelated to his role as a legislator.
"That is, if nothing else ever could be, a pattern and practice that appears to be purposeful and deliberate misconduct," Glazier said as the committee pored over evidence in the case.
Harris has said that Wright was guilty of nothing more than sloppy bookkeeping.
Wright has refused to resign, saying voters should determine if he remains in office. He announced plans last week to run for re-election.
The committee has set a Feb. 11 hearing for motions in the case, but no date has been set for a special legislative session in which lawmakers could expel Wright.
No lawmaker has been expelled from the General Assembly by other legislators since the 1880s.