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Does Party Affiliation Play Role In Public Corruption Cases?

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RALEIGH, N.C. — U.S. Attorney Frank Whitney is building a reputation for taking on elected Democrats. The Republican prosecutor served as an assistant in Charlotte for more than a decade before President George W. Bush appointed Whitney to take over in the state in 2002. Some question whether politics is playing a factor in public corruption cases.

Long before federal authorities looked into how lottery interests could be connected to House Speaker Jim Black, investigators had their collective eye on the actions of other politicians.

"The Justice Department, U.S. Attorney's Office, FBI, and the State Bureau of Investigation are very serious about public corruption. Honor your position," Whitney said at a October 2003 press conference.

With Whitney as the front man, investigators took down former Transportation Secretary Garland Garrett for his links to video poker. They also built a campaign finance extortion case that sent Agriculture Commissioner

Meg Scott Phipps

to prison. Next in line, longtime lawmaker

Frank Ballance

and his son Garey, a judge, pleaded guilty to defrauding taxpayers.

"Public officials have our trust and we expect them to honor that trust," said FBI resident agent Michael Saylor, who oversees the Raleigh office.

Some critics wonder if politics plays a role. Whitney is former chair of the Mecklenburg County Republican Party. His high-profile public corruption targets are Democrats.

"Republican prosecutor, Republican Judge, Republican justice. Politics doesn't stop at the courthouse door," said former judge Garey Ballance.

"It doesn't really matter. In fact, it has no bearing at all on what party you're a member to," Saylor said.

Saylor points out the Democrat-controlled State Board of Elections started the Phipps investigation and a Democrat state auditor led off the Ballance case.

Whitney has argued many times that his political views do not factor into his cases. Black does not accuse law enforcement specifically, but he has said publicly he believes his political enemies motivated this latest investigation.

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