Wednesday, April 09, 2008


How come news like this never makes national headlines?

When he was expelled from the House in March 2008, it was the first time in 128 years that the NC General Assembly had expelled one of their own. North Carolina state Rep. Thomas Wright has another first to his name. He is the first member of the North Carolina House to face jail time since 1880.

The North Carolina General Assembly voted overwhelmingly (109 to 5) to expel Rep. Thomas Wright. House members made the historic decision during a special session after hearing a detailed report from a special House Ethics Committee which investigated charges that Wright did not report over $180,000 in campaign contributions, diverted approximately $19,000 in contributions and loans to a nonprofit organization into personal accounts, and coaxed a state official into providing Wright with a fraudulent letter which was used to secured a $150,000 bank loan.

A jury convicted Wright of three felony fraud counts in a property scam.
The jury deliberated a little more than six hours over two days before announcing at midday that Wright had mishandled $7,400 in charitable contributions and fraudulently obtained a $150,000 bank loan. He was acquitted on a charge involving a $1,500 donation that his health-care foundation received from AT&T Corp.

Jurors agreed with prosecutors that Wright illegally pocketed donations from AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals and Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc. that were meant for his foundation, but instead ended up in his personal bank account.

The jury also said that Wright used a bogus letter from a state official to take out a loan to build health-care offices and a museum remembering Wilmington’s 1898 race riots.
He was sentenced to six to eight years in prison.

Despite a fraud conviction , Wright will stay on the Democratic primary ballot, which already has been printed, officials say.

Wright, a Wilmington Democrat, is the fourth House member to be convicted of or to plead guilty to a crime in state or federal court since 2006, a roster that includes former House Speaker Jim Black, (Democrat) former N.C. Reps. Michael Decker (Republican) and Paul Miller (Democrat.) The Rocky Mountain Telegram editorialized that North Carolina has become one of the most scandal-ridden states in the union through the misdeeds of these lawmakers.

Black was sentenced to 63 months in prison for corruption. The most powerful elected official in North Carolina history to be convicted of public corruption, Black served a record-tying four terms as speaker.

Black's troubles began when records showed that he had created a $48,000 state job for former Rep. Michael Decker, a Forsyth County Republican. Just before the start of the 2003 session, Decker switched parties and supported Black for speaker, a move that allowed him to remain in power. Decker cut a deal with federal authorities to plead guilty to a conspiracy charge for accepting a $50,000 bribe from Black in exchange for backing him for speaker. Decker was sentenced to four years in prison.

Miller sent doctored checks to the U.S. Department of Education to make it appear that he had paid off more than $20,000 in student loan debt. He had borrowed $13,750 in federally insured student loans in 1980. He had only paid back $1,700, but he claimed that he had paid the debt in full in 1992 and enclosed copies of five canceled checks from 1992 totaling $20,500.

The education department researched the checks and found that instead of being written for $4,100 each as Miller claimed, they had been written for $100 each. He was sentenced to probation.