Local News

Black Expected to Plead Guilty to Felony Charge

Posted February 15, 2007 6:55 a.m. EST
Updated February 15, 2007 12:11 p.m. EST

— Former House Speaker Jim Black is expected to plead guilty Thursday in court to a federal corruption charge.

Black will plead guilty to one count of accepting illegal gratuities, a felony charge that carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, according to current House Speaker Joe Hackney.

Black, who resigned his legislative seat Wednesday, said in a letter to Hackney that "it has been an honor and a privilege to serve in the North Carolina House of Representatives and represent the people of Mecklenburg County during the last 25 years."

Black was a prolific fundraiser, piling up scores of donations from individuals and special interests for both himself and other Democratic candidates. Observers said that was at the root of his downfall.

Critics filed campaign finance complaints against Black with the State Board of Elections, which led to hearings a year ago into how Black raised money from optometrists, video poker operators and other groups.

"I'm afraid the demands on him to raise millions of dollars just crunched. It took a good person and turned him into a bad person, and a crime was committed," said Bob Hall, executive director of government watchdog group Democracy North Carolina.

Former federal prosecutor Kieran Shanahan said the focus now though, is on Black's expected plea agreement. It could call for Black to cooperate with prosecutors and point the finger at other lawmakers.

"I think there's a legitimate interest on the government to try and discover other wrongdoing there may have been and bring other people to justice," he said.

The executive committee of the Mecklenburg County Democrats will have to meet to name Black's replacement. Gov. Mike Easley will then officially appoint that person to serve the rest of Black's two-year term.