When former North Carolina House Speaker Jim Black was convicted of taking money from a special interest group in exchange for legislative favors in 2007, prosecutors threw the book at him. Despite having taken what, in the big picture of modern politics, amounts to relatively modest amounts of money and ultimately having cooperated with prosecutors, Black was sentenced to and served a long stint in federal prison.
Black’s treatment stands in stark contrast to the treatment accorded former congressman, state representative, state Republican Party Chairman and multi-millionaire textile heir Robin Hayes this week. Prosecutors have recommended that Hayes, who was charged with multiple crimes related to the attempted big dollar bribery of state Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey and ended up pleading guilty to lying to the FBI, serve no time in jail at all.
As WBTV reported late yesterday:
“When recruited in 2018 to help funnel some $2 million in bribes to Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey, Robin Hayes said he was ‘more than happy to help,’ a new court document shows.
While Hayes, as state Republican Party chairman, raised concerns about the size of an illegal $250,000 campaign donation he had been asked to direct through the GOP to Causey, he nevertheless told his co-conspirators, ‘I’ll get ‘er done.’
On Monday, a filing by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Charlotte recommended to Hayes’ judge on how much prison time the former 11-term congressman should serve.
That number would be zero.”
Despite spelling out in great detail the scope of Hayes’ misdeeds, prosecutors have decided to go along with the recommendation of Hayes’ lawyers that he receive a sentence of probation only.
This recommendation seems pretty darned lenient. Yes, Hayes is getting older – he’ll be 75 on Friday – and it’s true that he’s endured public humiliation. It’s also true that he’s unlikely to be much of a threat to society, that he apparently cooperated in helping to secure the convictions of the men behind the scam and that prison is one hell of a dangerous place to send anyone during the era of the coronavirus pandemic.
All that said, it’s also true that participating in and lying repeatedly about a bribery scheme involving hundreds of thousands of dollars is serious business and something that ought to receive more than a slap on the wrist — especially if we hope to send a message to future would be politicos on the make. It will be interesting to see if Judge Max Cogburn (with whom the final decision in the matter rests) goes along with the recommendations or imposes at least some kind of symbolic punishment