Relationship Between Black, Ex-Aide Explored In Lottery Trial
Posted October 4, 2006 9:52 a.m. EDT
RALEIGH, N.C. — The "personal relationship" between House Speaker Jim Black and a former aide was the focus of the federal fraud trial of a former state lottery commissioner on Wednesday.
Kevin Geddings, charged with eight counts of mail or wire fraud, is accused of failing to disclose to the State Board of Ethics and others that his Charlotte-based public relations firm received more than $250,000 from lottery vendor Scientific Games Corp. or a company it acquired.
Prosecutors said Wednesday they might ask questions about Black's relationship with Meredith Norris, his unpaid political director who also was working as a lobbyist for lottery vendor Scientific Games. Assistant U.S. Attorney John Stuart Bruce said the relationship "impacted governmental decisions."
Black appointed Geddings to the lottery commission last year, calling it a last-minute decision that didn't come at the suggestion of Scientific Games.
"No one was influencing me about who I was going to appoint," said Black, called as a defense witness in Geddings' fraud trial. "I don't believe that anybody pushed me to make any decision about anyone."
Geddings, 41, has said he's innocent because the disclosures at the heart of the case were not legally required. Scientific Games, a leading provider of instant-win tickets and other lottery supplies, ultimately failed to win any contracts with the nascent North Carolina Education Lottery.
Defense attorneys have argued that because he was a late choice for the commission, Geddings would not have had a long-term plan to hide his work with Scientific Games.
Black's testimony mirrored that of Gov. Mike Easley, who said Tuesday that the speaker's first choice for the commission was State Board of Elections member Bob Cordle. Easley, who wanted Cordle to remain on the elections board, asked Black to recommend someone else.
Prosecutors have argued Black decided to pick Geddings for the panel during a Sept. 21, 2005, dinner at a Raleigh restaurant with Scientific Games lobbyist Alan Middleton and Norris.
"I don't remember any discussion about the lottery commission," Black said in front of a courtroom filled with spectators. "I don't remember any discussion about appointing Kevin Geddings."
Black, D-Mecklenburg, said he was tired after a long day and had two vodka tonics during the dinner. He said he made the choice to appoint Geddings to the panel the next day, believing Geddings' experience as chief of staff for former South Carolina Gov. Jim Hodges made him a solid choice for the commission.
"He seemed like a really good fit," Black said.
Black said he didn't talk to Geddings again until nearly a month later, when Geddings asked whether Black wanted him to step down. Geddings eventually left the post Nov. 1, hours before Scientific Games disclosed that it paid him $24,500 in that year for communications work.
Bruce, the federal prosecutor, asked Black whether he had a "close, personal relationship" with Norris.
"What do you mean by a close, personal relationship?" Black shot back. "I'd like to think I've had a close, personal relationship with every employee."
Black maintained that neither Norris nor Middleton influenced his appointment of Geddings, and prosecutors didn't pursue the line of questioning further.
Black's attorney, Ken Bell of Charlotte, also denied that Norris' relationship with Black influenced any governmental decisions. But neither he nor prosecutors would elaborate on the relationship between Black and Norris.
"We're not answering questions about the trial or the evidence during the trial," Bell said.
Black said he met with lobbyists for GTECH Holdings Corp., another lottery vendor, as often as those for Scientific Games. Both companies were allowed to comment on the legislation last year that created the state lottery, and GTECH later beat out Scientific Games for several lottery contracts.
Black, who was on the stand for more than two hours, declined to comment about the case or his testimony after leaving the courtroom.
Geddings took the stand in his own defense late Wednesday, detailing his years of work for lottery companies. Later, he discussed the new line of questioning in the case.
"That's such a sideshow. But so much of this case has been more about the speaker than me," he said. "I wonder sometimes what I'm doing here."