Ballance: 'I didn't get a fair trial'
Posted July 7, 2009 5:14 p.m. EDT
Updated July 10, 2009 3:54 p.m. EDT
RALEIGH, N.C. — Former North Carolina Congressman Frank Ballance says he was unfairly targeted by federal prosecutors and never should have spent time in prison.
In his first interview since his release, Ballance told WRAL News that prosecutors used lies and threats to get him to plead guilty in 2004 to using a nonprofit to divert taxpayer money.
The former Democratic congressman from Warrenton pleaded guilty to funneling $2.3 million in state funds through the Hyman Foundation, a nonprofit drug treatment center that he helped start, to his family, law firm and church
Prosecutors said Ballance used more than $100,000 to pay his legal bills, helped his son buy a Lincoln Navigator, paid his daughter for computer services she didn't perform and shared $143,250 with his mother to pay for community programs.
"I didn't get a fair trial," he said, maintaining that politics and race were factors in the case. "That's one of the things I'll speak out about. One of the hallmarks of our system is that everyone will get a fair trial."
Ballance said prosecutors threatened to charge his 86-year-old mother unless he pleaded guilty.
"You know how these guys operate. They don't tell you directly what they're going to do, but they send a message (that), if there's a plea, everything else goes away," he said.
U.S. Attorney George Holding said there was "no evidence statements made at (Ballance's) hearing prejudiced the court."
Holding said he recognized Ballance's lengthy record of public service – he served in the legislature before running for Congress – and added, "In the future, I hope he will continue in some form of public service."
Ballance, 67, was released from the federal prison in Butner in March and finished his sentence under home confinement. He still must serve two years of probation.
He said the best part of being back in his Raleigh home is being able to get up at night to get some water from the refrigerator.
"Mainly, it's gaining some degree of control over your life," he said.
Ballance said he wants to start another foundation – with his own money – to help people recently released from prison. He also plans to seek reinstatement of his law license.
"Bitterness eats you up on the inside," he said. "It's hard to love – as they say in the Bible, love your enemies – but you've got to figure out a way not to hate them. That's where I am."
An annual rally in Northampton County scheduled for Saturday will celebrate Ballance's commitment to serving the community.