Which former NC politicians have been involved in financial scandals? Here’s a list – Raleigh News & Observer

When someone is elected to office or serves in another leadership position, they are entrusted to act with integrity and use the finances associated with their office appropriately.

But that’s not always what happens. Two state audits of the town of Spring Lake (released in 2016 and 2022) uncovered financial mismanagement of the town’s funds. The second of those audits shows how a former town finance director, who had filed for personal bankruptcy and had tax liens against her, spent more than $430,000 for personal use. She has not been charged with a crime.

Several prominent North Carolina leaders, though, have been charged in the past with financial crimes related either to their office or campaigns, often ending in either prison time or other punishments.

Here are some notable North Carolina politicians, both at the state and local levels, who have previously been involved in financial scandals, including embezzlement, bribery and public corruption.

Laura Riddick

Laura Riddick, who served as Wake County Register of Deeds from 1997 to 2017, pleaded guilty in August 2018 to six counts of embezzling from the office she ran for two decades.

The deeds office discovered in 2017 that money was missing from the office. An investigation by Wake County’s insurance company found $2.3 million had vanished from the office between 2013 and 2017, The News & Observer reported.

Prosecutors charged four former employees of the deeds office with taking a combined $1.13 million, including $926,615 by Riddick.

Riddick reached a plea deal with prosecutors that required her to pay back the money she had taken from the office and serve five to seven years in prison. The judge also granted Riddick work release, The N&O reported.

As of May 2020, Riddick was serving her sentence at the North Carolina Correctional Institute for Women in Raleigh. Riddick’s husband, former News & Observer reporter, columnist and editor Matthew Eisley, said that month that she had been sick with the coronavirus for more than a month, The N&O reported.

Former Wake County Register of Deeds Laura Riddick turned herself in Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2017, on charges of embezzling $900,000 over more than six years. Three other former employees of the office were also indicted in the case involving $2.3 million missing from the office. Chuck Liddy 2014 News & Observer file photo

Meg Scott Phipps

The first woman to serve as the state’s Commissioner of Agriculture and the daughter and granddaughter of two North Carolina governors, Meg Scott Phipps pleaded guilty in 2003 to extortion, mail fraud and other charges.

Phipps, a Democrat, was elected agriculture commissioner in 2000, but controversy quickly surrounded her as “former campaign aides testified that she pressured state fair concessionaires and ride operators for political contributions, including illegal cash contributions,” The N&O reported.

She resigned from her position in June 2003, and faced trial later that year. A Wake County jury convicted her on state charges, and she later pleaded guilty to federal charges.

Phipps was sentenced to four years in federal prison. She served her sentence at a federal prison camp for women in West Virginia, and was released in 2007. The N&O reported at the time that upon her release, Phipps would work at Hawfields Presbyterian Church in Alamance County.

Meg Scott Phipps 2003.JPEG
Former NC Agriculture Commissioner Meg Scott Phipps and her father, former Gov. Bob Scott, May 14, 2003, on the Cherokee, N.C. Indian Reservation eating trout and touring farms. Bob Scott was governor from 1969 to 1973. Phipps, the granddaughter of Gov. Kerr Scott, was agriculture commissioner from 2001 to 2003 when she was forced to resign in a State Fair contract scandal. She pleaded guilty in 2003 to five federal counts of fraud, conspiracy and witness tampering and was sentenced to four years in federal prison. AP File Photo

Jim Black

Jim Black, a former member and speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives from Mecklenburg County, was from 2005 to 2007 involved in a series of scandals, including charges of public corruption and bribery.

Black pleaded guilty to bribery for giving $50,000 in cash and checks to former state Rep. Michael Decker of Forsyth County following the 2002 elections. Decker, then a Republican, switched parties to help keep Black, a Democrat, in the speaker’s office, The N&O reported.

According to a July 2007 report from The N&O, Black faced federal public corruption charges for accepting $29,000 in cash payments from chiropractors while “pushing legislation that would be favorable to the profession.”

A federal judge ordered that Black, who was 72 at the time, spend five years and three months in federal prison for the public corruption crime, as well as that he pay a fine of $50,000, The N&O reported.

Black also entered into an Alford plea on state corruption charges, for which he was sentenced to eight to ten months in prison and was ordered to pay a $1 million fine, The N&O reported. Black was allowed to serve his state and federal sentences at the same time.

Black served his sentence at a federal prison in Georgia and was released in 2010. He was required to spend the remaining six months of his term either at a halfway house or under house arrest, The N&O reported.

Former Speaker of the N.C. House of Representatives Jim Black, right, and his attorney Ken Bell listens near the end of his sentencing hearing held in a Wake County courtroom in 2007 Chris Seward News & Observer file photo

Frank Ballance

Frank Ballance, a Democrat who represented North Carolina in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2003 to 2004 after previously serving in both the state House and Senate, pleaded guilty in 2004 to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and money laundering.

Ballance was indicted on federal charges that arose from allegations that, while he was a state legislator, he channeled $2.3 million in state money to a charitable organization created to help low-income people fight drug and alcohol abuse. Ballance then “diverted some of that money from its intended purpose, according to authorities, giving some of it to his children and to share with his mother for community programs,” The Associated Press reported.

Ballance was sentenced in 2005 to serve four years in prison, with two years supervised release, and to pay a $10,000 fine.

Ballance served his sentence at the federal prison in Butner, and was released in 2009. He died in 2019 at the age of 77.

Former FBI agent Chuck Stuber, right, handcuffs former U.S. Rep. Frank Ballance after he turned himself in at the the Federal Courthouse on in Raleigh. NEWS & OBSERVER FILE PHOTO

David Lewis

David Lewis, previously one of the most powerful Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly, was charged in August 2020 with federal financial crimes in what prosecutors said “was a scheme to take money from his political donors for personal use,” The N&O reported.

Lewis was charged with not filing taxes and making false statements to a bank, in relation to his campaign finance scheme, The N&O reported.

Prosecutors announced shortly after the charges were made public that Lewis would take a plea deal, The N&O reported. In exchange for a guilty plea, prosecutors agreed not to seek prison time for Lewis, provided that he repay the $365,000 he took from donors for his personal use.

Had he faced trial, Lewis could have faced up to 30 years in prison. Instead, he avoided prison time and was ordered to pay a $1,000 fine and have two years of supervised release, The N&O reported.

Rep. David Lewis of Harnett County presides over the house committee working to redraw political maps that were recently ruled unconstitutional on Thursday, September 12, 2019 at the Legislative Office Building in Raleigh, N.C. Robert Willett

Fletcher Hartsell

Fletcher Hartsell, a Republican member of the North Carolina House of Representatives from 1991 to 2016, was indicted in 2016 on state and federal charges related to misappropriating campaign funds by spending more than $200,000 on vacations, speeding tickets, haircuts and other personal expenses.

A News & Observer investigation of Hartsell’s campaign spending triggered an extensive review by the state, the results of which were then forwarded to state and federal prosecutors.

The state indictment against Hartsell included three counts of certifying a campaign-finance document as correct, while knowing it was not, The N&O reported.

The federal indictment in the case included 14 charges against Hartsell, including mail fraud, wire fraud and money laundering, The N&O reported. The indictment alleged that “Hartsell engaged in a scheme to solicit and obtain campaign money from 2007 through 2015 that he spent on personal items and services and then concealed his actions by filing knowingly false campaign finance reports.”

Hartsell in May 2017 was sentenced to eight months in federal prison after he pleaded guilty to three federal charges in the case. He later pleaded guilty to three state charges, but received a suspended sentence and probation for those charges.

Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, left, reads his indictment with attorney Wade Smith as they wait to appear before a magistrate at the Wake County Detention Center on Tuesday, June 28, 2016 in Raleigh, N.C. Robert Willett

Patrick Cannon

Patrick Cannon, a Democrat who served as mayor of Charlotte from 2013 to 2014 and had previously served on the Charlotte city council, was convicted in 2014 of accepting more than $50,000 in bribes.

Cannon was arrested by the FBI in March 2014 on public corruption charges of theft and bribery, following an FBI sting investigation that dated back to 2010.

Cannon pleaded guilty in June 2014 to one count of honest services wire fraud. He “acknowledged taking bribes and other gifts in exchange for using his political influence to help those who paid him,” The Charlotte Observer reported. The crime carried a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Cannon was sentenced to serve 44 months in federal prison. He served half of the sentence at a minimum-security prison in West Virginia before being released in 2016.

Cannon is currently making a bid to return to politics, as he has filed to run for an at-large seat on the Charlotte city council in the upcoming election, The Charlotte Observer reported.

Patrick Cannon 007.JPG
Former Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon leaves the Federal Courthouse in Charlotte after being sentenced to 44 months in October 14, 2014. Cannon was sentenced in a wide-ranging bribery scheme. Jeff Siner

This story was originally published March 25, 2022 2:28 PM.

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Korie Dean is a reporter on The News & Observer’s service journalism team. She is a graduate of the Hussman School of Journalism and Media at UNC-Chapel Hill and a lifelong North Carolinian.

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