Local News

Black Releases Subpoenas Issued By Federal Grand Jury

Posted October 28, 2005 5:58 a.m. EDT

— House Speaker Jim Black on Thursday released copies of two federal grand jury subpoenas seeking information about contact he and his staff may have had with more than two dozen people or groups, many connected to the video poker industry and the newly created state lottery.

Read The Subpoenas (PDF)





Black, who was at a Charlotte fund-raiser Thursday night, contends the publicity around the probe is politically motivated.

"There are those who would like me not to be Speaker of the House. They think if they bring me down, they can change the face of the legislature," he said.

Black said he didn't know many of the names listed in the subpoenas and didn't have information about them in his office records. His attorney also said Thursday that a federal prosecutor has told him Black is not the target of the investigation.

"I have no idea as to what the grand jury is investigating and am quite puzzled by some of the names or groups included in the subpoenas, but my staff and I will fully cooperate with the investigators so we can get beyond this matter," Black said in an earlier statement.

Black, D-Mecklenburg, initially refused to release copies of the documents. Two newspapers, The Charlotte Observer and The News & Observer of Raleigh, had sued Black and his staff attorney, seeking access.

Black's attorney, Ken Bell, has since determined the subpoenas are public records and should be released, according to a statement issued by Black's office late Thursday.

"I believe the public has the right to know these details and I hope that the real facts regarding this matter will be reported and the speculations and inaccurate information that have been in the news in recent weeks stop," Black said in the statement. "We ... hope that the release of the subpoenas does not impair or impede their investigation, which clearly is not our intent."

"The letter from Speaker Black's attorney said he's not the target, but it doesn't say he's not the subject of the investigation. In due time, the subject can later become a witness or the target of an investigation," he said.

U.S. Attorney Frank Whitney in Raleigh didn't immediately return a phone call seeking comment. Bell has said federal prosecutors requested the subpoenas not be released, but the state Attorney General's Office advised Bell and Black the documents were public records under North Carolina law.

"I would hope anyone whose name is attached to this subpoena is talking to an attorney tonight," attorney Dan Boyce said.

Boyce, who worked as a federal prosecutor for seven years, said the document indicates the initial phase of a public corruption investigation whose target is not yet known.

One of the subpoenas seeks a wide variety of documents relating to communications that Black and his staff may have had with 28 different entities or people, including Meredith Norris, Black's former unpaid political director. The other subpoena seeks access to state-owned personal computers from Black's office. All the information is needed before Nov. 16, the subpoenas said.

Norris also worked as a consultant for lottery company Scientific Games Corp. during this year's legislative session, when there was extensive debate that led to the creation of a state lottery. The Secretary of State's Office is currently investigating whether Norris, who is no longer Black's aide, violated state lobbying laws while working with Scientific Games, a potential lottery vendor. Scientific Games and rival GTECH Holdings are among the 28 listed.

The grand jury wants information related to other firms Norris worked for, including ElectriCities, J.R. Tobacco and the North Carolina Economic Development Group.

Mark Calloway of Charlotte, one of Norris' attorneys, declined to comment Thursday.

One subpoena to Black's office seeks communications and information on political contributions connected to the video poker and lottery industries. It also seeks documents related to trips, dinners and donations received by the 28 or Black and his staff from anyone seeking to influence legislation at the General Assembly.

Federal prosecutors have been investigating the industry for video poker industry for the past five years. The State Board of Elections also has been examining political donations from industry members to Black and others.

The grand jury also seeks any information related to Kevin Geddings, whom Black recommended be appointed to the new North Carolina State Lottery Commission. Geddings once worked with a vice president of Scientific Games, Alan Middleton, who is also named in the subpoena.

A subpoena also asks for information about ex-Rep. Michael Decker, R-Forsyth, a close Black ally who landed a state job in part with Black's help, and Thee DollHouse, a Raleigh strip club, but it didn't give more information.

Black's office also released a third subpoena issued to him earlier this month, this time by a federal grand jury in Charlotte. Bell said the federal government withdrew that request last week.

ElectriCities, a public nonprofit group that assists municipal electric utilities, last week received a separate federal subpoena seeking records about Norris, whom ElectriCities hired in April for $3,000 a month to lobby the General Assembly.

Norris is not identified as a target of the investigation in that subpoena. It does indicate the investigation is looking into a suspected felony.

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