State News

Lawmaker's Fraud Trial Delayed

Posted February 25, 2008 8:55 a.m. EST
Updated February 26, 2008 12:11 a.m. EST

— A judge on Monday postponed a criminal trial for state Rep. Thomas Wright.

The Wilmington Democrat was scheduled to go to trial next week on fraud and obstruction of justice charges, but Superior Court Judge Henry Hight agreed to push the trial back after Wright's lawyer said he needed more time to prepare for the case.

"I don't think any attorney alive could grasp that much material that quickly and have a fair trial," defense attorney Douglas Harris said, referring to boxes of documents turned over to him last month by prosecutors.

Wright was indicted in December on six felony charges for his handling of more than $350,000 in campaign donations, loans and charitable money. He could face up to 11 years in prison if convicted on all charges.

Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby, who had pushed for a speedy trial to resolve the charges before the May 6 primary election, said he would have to check the court calendar to determine when he could schedule the trial.

The charges against Wright stem from:

  • $185,000 in campaign donations authorities said weren't reported
  • allegations that the lawmaker used his position to influence a state official to write a letter to help him obtain a $150,000 loan for a real estate deal in Wilmington
  • accusations that he diverted almost $19,000 in contributions and loans into his personal accounts when they were supposed to go to a nonprofit organization he directs

Harris has blamed many of Wright's troubles on sloppy bookkeeping. Harris has said he expects a jury will find Wright innocent.

Wright has refused to resign, saying voters should determine if he remains in office. He recently announced plans to run for re-election.

House lawmakers have also charged Wright with ethical misconduct, and they may censure or remove Wright from his legislative seat.

A special legislative committee is expected to begin hearing Wright's case next week.

"It is time for us to hear the evidence and make a judgment," said state Rep. Rick Glazier, D-Cumberland, who co-chairs the special committee. "It is not politically motivated. It is a very strong and deep belief that ethics charges need to be resolved in some fair and timely manner."

The General Assembly hasn't expelled a sitting lawmaker since the 1880s, and Harris said he doesn't think the legislative committee should act until the criminal case against Wright is resolved.

"They shouldn't go ahead for the best reasons – because it pollutes the trial. They're down there saying things about the trial, making comments about my client. They should never say those kinds of things," he said.