State News

Convicted lawmaker back in court

Posted August 25, 2008 4:02 a.m. EDT
Updated August 25, 2008 12:17 p.m. EDT

— Convicted felon and former Rep. Thomas Wright was back in court Monday.

Four months after being sentenced to prison for fraud, Wright returned to Wake County Superior Court for a trial on an outstanding obstruction of justice charge. Prosecutors allege that Wright violated North Carolina's campaign finance laws by failing to report about $150,000 in campaign contributions and using the money for personal purchases.

Defense attorney Douglas Harris argued Monday that the obstruction charge was improper because it is a common law offense. No state statute covers obstruction, so Harris said it should apply only to interference with the judiciary and not to campaign finance violations.

Wright didn't destroy anything, didn't try to hide anything and is guilty only of sloppy bookkeeping, Harris said.

"My guy simply didn't do reporting that he should have done. To me, that's a misdemeanor," he said.

Judge Donald Stephens rejected that argument, and jury selection began late Monday morning.

District Attorney Colon Willoughby said he expects the trial will last two or three days. Willoughby said he doesn't believe Wright will plead guilty to the charges.

Wright, a former New Hanover County Democrat, was sentenced in April to 70 to 95 months in prison after a jury found him guilty of three counts of fraud in the mishandling of charity contributions and fraudulently obtaining a loan.

He became the first lawmaker tossed out of the General Assembly since the 1880s when legislators found him guilty of ethics violations and voted overwhelmingly to expel him.