Raleigh’s News & Observer reports this morning that Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman is investigating the ties between gambling industry executives and some important state political leaders and has asked the FBI for assistance. The news comes months after the State Board of Elections chose not to pursue the matter further following a lengthy but incomplete investigation.
For those who may have forgotten, here is what advocates at the government watchdog group Democracy North Carolina had to say in the aftermath of the State Board’s decision this past summer when they called on Freeman and U.S. Attorney Thomas Walker to investigate “possible criminal violations involving the sweepstakes gaming industry, lobbyists and candidates in the 2012 election, including Gov. Pat McCrory, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, and then House Speaker Thom Tillis”:
“After two years, the State Board of Elections voted on July 15, 2015, not to find or pursue any violations related to North Carolina’s campaign finance statutes. However, a number of findings in the report prepared by the staff reinforce my concern about illegal acts.
- One lobbyist (Tommy Sevier of Moore & Van Allen) admitted he delivered bundled contributions on two occasions (pages 29-30 of the
- Bank account records of the Chase Burns Trust showed millions of dollars transferred from his IIT sweepstake software corporation into the Trust’s account, which was used to write $274,000 in campaign contributions to dozens of legislators and others, making the Burns
Trust the top campaign donor to NC candidates in the 2012 election cycle (pages 9-15 of the SBE report).
- The contributions written from the Chase Burns Trust roughly follow the recommendations in a memo titled “IIT Political Contribution Strategy” that was prepared by lobbyists at Moore & Van Allen, the firm retained not by Burns personally but by his sweepstakes’ corporation, IIT (Exhibit 2 of the SBE report).
- The IIT corporation collected a 3% surcharge on sweepstakes parlor owners it serviced for a political and lobbying fund. A different but somewhat similar arrangement in Florida included allocating part of the surcharge for campaign donations, but Board staff did not find a similar link to donations in the NC arrangement (pages 32 of the SBE report).
- Gardner Payne, a major sweepstakes operator, “talked about raising money from the sweepstakes industry for Governor McCrory” during a meeting where the two men discussed ways to legalize the sweepstakes industry (pages 32 of the SBE report).
- The same representative (Gardner Payne) met separately with then-Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger about legislation to legalize the industry, and he said he raised campaign funds for them (pages 35-37 of the SBE report).
- After months of talking with SBE staff about the Burns investigation, SBE member Paul Foley finally recused himself when staff discovered that his law firm was paid more than one million dollars by Burns’ company, IIT. However, Foley continued to push staff for confidential information about who they were interviewing and other details (Attachments C, D, and E of the SBE report).
These are some of the intriguing facts that need further exploration. Mr. Burns did not agree to be interviewed for the report. Candidates were not interviewed about their meetings and fundraising.”
Let’s hope Freeman gets to the bottom of this disturbing mess. Click here to read the entire Democracy NC release from August.