Latest North Carolina news, sports, business and entertainment at 6:20 a.m. EDT
BIG DONOR-NORTH CAROLINA-INDICTMENTS
Former NC GOP head pleads guilty to lying in bribery case
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) – The former chairman of North Carolina’s Republican Party has admitted he broke the law by lying to federal agents about his role in an alleged effort to bribe the state’s top insurance regulator to help a major GOP donor.
Robin Hayes pleaded guilty Wednesday to making a false statement to the FBI. Prosecutors said in his indictment that he agreed to use the party to funnel $250,000 to state Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey’s reelection campaign at the request of insurance magnate Greg Lindberg and an associate.
Court documents filed last week say Hayes lied to FBI agents in August 2018 by denying he had talked to Causey about replacing the state official examining Lindberg’s company.
FORMER COMMISSIONER-TAX CHARGES
Former county commissioner arrested on tax charges
WASHINGTON (AP) – Federal attorneys say a former North Carolina county commissioner has been arrested on charges of filing false tax returns and failing to file a federal tax return.
The U.S. Department of Justice says former Forsyth County Commissioner Everette Witherspoon Jr. filed false personal tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service from 2013 through 2015. He’s also accused of not reporting his county commissioner wages and falsely underreporting gross receipts for a mental health services provider business he managed.
On Sept. 30, a federal grand jury in Greensboro returned an indictment, which was unsealed following Witherspoon’s arrest.
If convicted, Witherspoon faces maximums of three years for each count of filing a false tax return and one year in prison for the other charge. He also faces supervised release and monetary penalties.
Ex-Marine pleads guilty to drug charges linked to death
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – Federal prosecutors say a former Camp Lejeune Marine has pleaded guilty to distributing drugs which were linked to the death of a fellow Marine.
The U.S. Department of Justice says in a news release that 24-year-old Marcos Jamie Villegas of St. Charles, Illinois pleaded guilty on Wednesday to distributing oxycodone and fentanyl.
Prosecutors say Villegas and 20-year-old Cpl. Mark M. Mambulao went to a party in the town of Richlands in April 2017. According to an investigation, Villegas provided Mambulao with pills that he and a third Marine purchased. The next morning, Villegas discovered Mambulao unresponsive. Mambulao was taken to a hospital, where he died.
An autopsy showed Mambulao died from a fentanyl overdose and low alcohol content.
Villegas faces up to 20 years in prison.
JURY DUTY-VOTER ROLLS
Disqualified juror records focus of voter bill OK’d in House
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – The state House has approved legislation which would require North Carolina courts to send information to the State Board of Elections on people disqualified from jury duty because they say they aren’t U.S. citizens.
A Republican shepherding the bill said Wednesday the measure, which passed on a party-line vote, would help stop non-citizens from trying to vote. Rep. George Cleveland of Jacksonville says the measure provides a process for someone to object to getting removed from the rolls.
Several Democrats challenged the bill, saying it could easily delete lawfully registered voters due to paperwork errors. They also complained a requirement that the registration status of disqualified jurors get posted online would amount to public shaming.
The bill was approved 55-49 and now returns to the Senate.
Bill named in memory of North Carolina trooper is finalized
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – The North Carolina legislature has agreed to raise current criminal penalties against people who assault law enforcement officers with a gun and emergency service workers who are seriously attacked while performing their duties.
The House gave final legislative approval on Wednesday to the measure named in memory of state Trooper Kevin Conner. He was fatally shot in October 2018 while stopping a pickup truck on a Columbus County road for a speeding violation. Two people are awaiting trial in his death.
The bill now goes to Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk.
The measure also would provide an additional $100,000 death benefit to the survivors of a public safety employee who is “murdered in the line of duty.” That benefit would be retroactive to such deaths since July 2016.
PILL MILL DOCTOR
Virginia doctor sentenced to 40 years in opioid case
ABINGDON, Va. (AP) – A Virginia doctor who prosecutors said ran his medical practice like an interstate drug distribution ring has been sentenced to 40 years in prison for illegally prescribing opioids.
Dr. Joel Smithers, of Greensboro, North Carolina, was sentenced Wednesday in federal court in Abingdon.
Executive Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura Day Rottenborn said Judge James Jones sentenced Smithers to 40 years. He faced a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years and a maximum of life.
Smithers was convicted of more than 800 counts of illegally distributing opioids, including oxycodone and oxymorphone that caused the death of a West Virginia woman.
Authorities say Smithers prescribed opioids to patients from five states while based in Martinsville, Virginia.
Smithers testified that he was a caring doctor who was deceived by some of his patients.
The Latest: Election for president of state NAACP postponed
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – The election for president of the North Carolina NAACP has been postponed as the national organization investigates sexual harassment allegations against a man who planned to seek the office.
State President T. Anthony Spearman told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the national office advised him the election would be postponed during the investigation of allegations against the Rev. Curtis Gatewood. Gatewood was unable to run for president after he was suspended from NAACP membership last week.
Two women have said publicly that Gatewood harassed them while they were employed with the NAACP. Gatewood says he never intentionally harassed anyone but realizes his actions “may have been received as sexual.”
The election was scheduled to take place Saturday at the NAACP state convention in Greensboro.
Spearman said national NAACP President Derrick Johnson will address the convention Saturday.
DUKE ENERGY-GRID COSTS
Rate rule changes in NC sought by Duke Energy near final OK
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – A measure now one step from final legislative approval in North Carolina retains provisions that would let Duke Energy Corp. seek multiyear electric rates from state regulators.
The Senate voted 26-16 on Wednesday for a bill worked out between House and Senate negotiators. House debate and a vote won’t occur until at least next week. A final, approved bill would be subject to Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto.
An earlier version of the measure pushed through the House in August tried to hold back the multiyear option and giving the electric utility some profit-margin flexibility by ordering studies on those topics instead.
Supporters of the regulatory changes say additional alterations will protect consumers by earmarking certain excess profits toward initiatives that benefit low-income consumers, followed by ultimately refunding ratepayers.