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Federal Probe Continues Into Allegations Against N.C. House Speaker

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Members of House Speaker Jim Black's current and former senior-level staff trooped Wednesday into a federal courthouse where a grand jury has been interested in several people or groups connected to him.

Allan Rogers, Black's deputy chief of staff, left the building in downtown Raleigh late Wednesday afternoon, nearly eight hours after he arrived. Reporters also saw Rita Harris, the speaker's former budget adviser, departing earlier in the afternoon.

Rick Glaser, a Charlotte attorney hired to represent former and current members of Black's staff in response to several investigations, said his clients would not comment.

Federal grand juries are closed to the public, and the U.S. Attorney's Office doesn't comment on their proceedings. Several optometrists who testified last month at a State Board of Elections hearing related to Black's campaign finances showed up at the federal building a week later on the same day an attorney said a grand jury was convening.

Alexander "Sandy" Sands, a former state senator and lobbyist, wouldn't confirm whether he had testified before the grand jury when he left the courthouse Wednesday about 3 1/2 hours after he arrived.

"See y'all later," Sands told reporters before leaving in his sedan parked outside the building.

Harris is now employed by the North Carolina State Ports Authority. Rogers was involved in efforts to help create a job within the state Department of Cultural Resources that ultimately went to former Rep. Michael Decker, who had been a legislative ally of Black.

Decker was a Republican who abandoned his party for the Democrats in early 2003. The change helped Black remain co-speaker during the 2003-04 legislative session. Decker failed to win re-election in 2004 after returning to the Republican Party.

The State Board of Elections heard testimony last month that Decker failed to disclose $3,400 in contributions that went into his personal account or were spent for his personal use. The board sent Decker's case to Wake County prosecutors to consider charges for violations of campaign finance laws.

Decker saw a spike in campaign contributions in early 2003 after his switch to the Democrats. During testimony before the board, Black said there had been no agreement for Decker to receive financial help in exchange for his vote for speaker.

E-mail documents showed Rogers, then Black's assistant for special projects, provided Cultural Resources with information about a position in the department early last year, nearly two weeks before the job was posted on the department's employment Web site. After several people applied and a few were interviewed, Decker was hired at a salary of $48,000 a year.

The speaker's office already has provided federal prosecutors with more than 3,000 pages of documents subpoenaed last fall by a federal grand jury that wanted information about 28 people or organizations, including Decker and many linked to the video poker and lottery industries.

An investigator told the state elections board last month it appeared Black's campaign broke campaign finance laws when Black filled in the payee line on at least three incomplete checks signed by optometrists totaling $4,200 that ultimately went to Decker.

Black said filling in the name on the blank check was legal. The elections board has yet to take any action against Black's campaign.

At a news conference Wednesday, state GOP chairman Ferrell Blount argued Black's job assistance for Decker reflected a troubling trend within the state House under the speaker's leadership: taxpayer money is being wasted.

"He calls it helping his team," Blount said at a news conference unveiling campaign placards that criticize Black. "What he is really doing is selling out the people of North Carolina."

The poster mimics a real estate yard sign reading "House for Sale" but has a picture of Black and a phone number to call and

Web site

to learn about what the GOP calls Democratic corruption.

In a prepared statement, Black said it's not surprising that some Republicans "sling mud and make up lies about me and other Democrats" because they have poor records on issues such as education and job creation.