Ex-N.C. House Speaker Admits Corruption

The Associated Press
Thursday, February 15, 2007; 8:00 PM

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Former North Carolina House Speaker Jim Black pleaded guilty Thursday to accepting nearly $30,000 from three chiropractors while pushing for legislation they supported.

One day after resigning from the House, a somber Black appeared in a federal courtroom to plead guilty to a single count of accepting things of value in connection with the business of state government. The charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

The 71-year-old optometrist from suburban Charlotte will be sentenced May 14 and, under the terms of his deal, must agree to help the government. Federal prosecutors also agreed not to seek additional charges.

"He has pled guilty to the only criminal offense that he's committed," said Black's attorney, Ken Bell, who added he hoped Black would be able to avoid prison time.

"That money meant nothing to him personally," Bell said. "But it's a crime and he's admitted that fact and he will face the court and its judgment for it."

Prosecutors said Black accepted about $25,000 in cash on four occasions between February 2002 and December 2005. According to court documents, Black told one of the chiropractors at the last meeting, "This is just between me and you _ don't you ever tell anybody about this."

Prosecutors also said Black accepted a $4,000 check, which he deposited into his personal account.

"Legislative leaders accepting cash payments from special interests is unacceptable," said U.S. Attorney George Holding.

Prosecutors said Black intended "to be rewarded" for the business of state government, and specifically cited three laws chiropractors sought at the General Assembly. One dealt with insurance premiums and another limited who, other than chiropractors, can provide chiropractic services.

Black, a Democrat, served eight years in the powerful position of speaker before deciding not to seek a fifth term in that job in December.

For the past two years, Black had been dogged by a federal grand jury that was investigating his campaign finances, involvement in the creation of the state lottery and ties to the state's video poker industry. But the revelation that Black had personally pocketed thousands in cash came as a shock to many.

"I'm stunned. I really am. That's all I can say," said Rep. Alice Underhill, who was one of the first House Democrats to call on Black to step down as speaker last year.

(Corrects prosecutors' description of accusations and adds background.)

© 2007 The Associated Press