Local Politics

Ex-Speaker Black pays half of fine in corruption case

Posted June 26, 2008 4:55 p.m. EDT
Updated June 27, 2008 1:20 p.m. EDT

— Former state House Speaker Jim Black paid $500,000 Thursday toward the $1 million fine that is part of his sentence for a state obstruction of justice conviction.

Black pleaded guilty in February 2007 to bribery and obstruction charges and was supposed to have paid the fine six months ago. Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens approved the motion for an extension until July 1 to pay the fine.

Whit Powell, a Raleigh lawyer representing Black, said the payment was made Thursday afternoon, and that Stephens agreed to a six-month extension for the remaining $500,000.

Powell provided this statement from Black on Thursday:

I have always intended to leave a portion of my estate to help secure the enhancement of North Carolina's public educational system. While this payment comes a wee bit premature, I gladly give it knowing that North Carolina's children will be the beneficiaries.

According to the terms of his sentence, the money from the fine goes to the Wake County Public School System.

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.