Trial Opens for State Ex-Rep. Accused of Fraud, Pocketing Contributions
Posted March 31, 2008 6:02 p.m. EDT
Updated April 1, 2008 6:20 a.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — Prosecutors say former Rep. Thomas Wright bilked a bank and several corporate donors out of thousands of dollars as part of a scheme to enrich himself.
The allegations came in opening statements Monday in Wright's criminal trial. The Wilmington Democrat is charged with fraudulently obtaining $150,000 in bank loans and pocketing another $19,000 in contributions meant for his campaigns and a health foundation he led in Wilmington.
"That organization really wasn't a tax-exempt organization. That organization was simply Thomas Wright,” Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby said.
Wright's attorney countered that no one is complaining they were duped.
"There was no money spirited away, not $150,000, not $100,000, not $5," attorney Douglas Harris said. "It was simply a loan that didn't work out."
Harris told jurors the eight-term lawmaker, who was booted from office earlier this month, should be thanked for his work in the community.
Earlier Monday, Superior Court Judge Henry Hight denied a motion from Harris to postpone the trial, which has already been delayed once.
Harris cited the intense attention that surrounded Wright's recent removal from the House, but Hight noted that the only attention the case was getting Monday came from the reporters gathered in the courtroom to watch.
Hight did agree with a defense motion to have Wright tried solely on four fraud charges.
He denied Harris' request to dismiss a charge of obstruction of justice – focusing on about 400 campaign contributions that prosecutors say were not reported.
Hight ruled that the obstruction of justice charge was unrelated to the fraud charges and Wright could stand trial for obstruction of justice later.
Wright is challenging his expulsion from the House in court, arguing that legislators violated his constitutional rights in part by removing him based on a lower threshold of evidence than is used to determine guilt in a criminal proceeding.