Saturday, April 12, 2008

High tech hanging continues sad history

In 1898, Democrat party leaders organized the murder of a number of black citizens of Wilmington and the burning of the only black daily paper in the country. The major North Carolina newspapers cheered them on. A century later, the News and Observer, the Charlotte Observer, and other papers apologized for their part in supporting the only successful armed overthrow of a lawfully elected government known to have occurred in this country.

No wonder the leaders of the North Carolina Democrat Party might be opposed to the idea of a museum commemorating the origin of their current power. The museum might make visitors aware of how misleading press reports that drive public opinion really can be. Black visitors in particular might begin to question their loyalty to a party rooted in slavery that has controlled our state's government for over a hundred years, thus controlling our public schools and our criminal justice system, areas of particular concern to most black citizens.

Some may find it strange that a white Republican is willing to suggest the trial of Representative Thomas Wright is race-related, but he says it is and the evidence supports his charge. After sitting in the courtroom all last week, I'm convinced Representative Thomas Wright was convicted of three felonies only because the jury was tainted by press accounts of the special session of the legislature held immediately before the trial, and he was tried, not because he committed felonies, but because he crossed the wrong people.

Wright might be guilty of doing many things wrong, but he was tried for doing things most Republicans and many Democrats would consider right. Wright's real crimes were refusing to back Senator Julia Boseman in the 2006 election, seeking to build a museum to commemorate the 1898 Wilmington Riots, and refusing to follow orders from the current rulers in Raleigh. It is hard to get the public to support jail time for those crimes or bad bookkeeping so he was charged with allegedly committing fraud on a bank and three corporations, none of which seemed to feel injured or even irritated with Wright.

How ironic that on the same day Wright was found guilty, April 7, 2008, the Wilmington Star had a related story that began "A few years ago at a Brunswick County Sheriff's Office department meeting, then-Sheriff Ronald Hewett drew a bull's eye on a dry-erase board. He said that if someone caused him trouble as sheriff "they would be the target. . ."

If a "lowly" (by comparison) Sheriff can target someone, what about the big boys in Raleigh like the Speaker of the House, the Democrat Majority Leader of the Senate, and the Governor? I've long said, in writing, that Jim Black was the runt of the litter when it came to corruption in North Carolina's government.

Even before Black's conviction, I said that I thought he was being tossed to the wolves by the big dogs. But Black was relatively easy to convict because he did so much wrong; Wright must have been a comparative angel, because the charges on which he was tried last week were so weak that I doubt the DA could have won a conviction with an unbiased jury.

The trial made it clear to me Wright was a target. For obtaining a letter that could not possibly have been used to trick the bank into approving a $150,000 loan, and for admittedly depositing $8,900 donated to the Foundation he headed into his bank account, Wright was sentenced to more years in jail than Jim Black was. Wright said the $8,900 was a reimbursement for funds he actually spent for the benefit of the Foundation (and he proved at least $4,900 was), yet he was sentenced to more jail time than many violent criminals.

Black helped steal the whole state government by using bribery to stay in power to execute a gerrymander; Wright didn't get a dime from the $150,000 loan and it seems likely that he lost money from his efforts to establish a Foundation rather than making money by stealing money due the Foundation. What's wrong in this picture?

Yet the same people who ignored me or made fun of me for years when I said Jim Black was guilty of unethical behavior as Speaker, long before the FBI proved I was right, now ignore any suggestion Wright might not be guilty. Just as the mainstream media praised Black when it was obvious to anyone willing to see that Black was abusing his power, they now condemn Wright with the same willful blindness.

I only became interested in Representative Thomas Wright's case because a complaint I had filed against Representative Pryor Gibson had been whitewashed and I'd been told nothing was done because Gibson's action in 2006 was too old to pursue. Since Wright was being pursued for much older events, I wanted to know how to get the same attention devoted to Gibson's multiple questionable activities that was being devoted to convicting Wright.

When this started, I was delighted to see Wright condemned, because he was an ally of Black. Now, I think Wright's convictions should be overturned on Appeal and I'm convinced Joe Hackney is far more dangerous than Jim Black as Speaker.

Jim Black's gang threatened legislators to round up votes, but they only threatened to use misleading mailings to end their political careers. (Under the Dome, May 20, 1999)

Under Joe Hackney the stakes are higher. Fail to follow orders and be charged with multiple felonies. When convicted, using whatever methods necessary, don't wait for an appeal before starting the sentence. When Black was convicted and no appeal contemplated, he was permitted to wait to start his sentence. Not Thomas Wright.

This is not written to defend Thomas Wright. He's a Democrat; I'm a Republican. He supported Jim Black; I quite clearly did not. I'm frankly surprised to find myself supporting him in any way shape or form. But I'm convinced he was railroaded.

This is not even about Thomas Wright; this is about the abuse of power by legislative leaders working in concert with individuals in the other branches of government. This is scary stuff.

If Wright can be threatened with retribution for not following orders and then convicted of a Class C felony that only a science fiction fan who actually believes in time travel could find plausible, no legislator is safe.

Being threatened with lies is an occupational hazard for anyone who seeks public office. While words can hurt, most voters know to consider the source of any accusation.

Being threatened with jail time is another matter altogether. Even if the legislator is not convicted, the damage done is beyond belief.

Thomas Wright was charged with a Class C felony, a very serious offense, for using a false letter to defraud a bank into making a $150,000 loan to purchase a building. The bank never filed a complaint, because they did not lose money. They made money.

Thomas Wright did not get a dime from the loan and the record shows he was trying to raise funds to pay the loan. Both he and Dr. Dan Gottovi paid interest to extend the loan to buy time to try and raise the funds to retire the debt. What an unusual fraud!

The fraud charge is based on the fact Wright asked Torlen Wade to prepare a letter they both knew was false and Wade did so. According to District Attorney Colon Willoughby, the letter was used to persuade the bank to make the loan.

There's one major problem: the record shows the loan was approved, with no contingencies, and the closing attorney notified of the approval before the letter even existed.

A document entered into evidence by the DA showed the bank approved the loan March 5, 2002, giving it the lowest possible credit rating which indicates they knew getting a grant was not a given. If they had seen the letter, a higher credit rating would be expected, but the letter was not prepared until March 15, 2002, so the lending officer who approved the loan could not have seen it.

Imagine for the sake of argument that Thomas Wright was so desperate for funds that he told a friend to get him a gun because he might have to rob a bank. Before the friend could get the gun to him, he got the money he needed. Could the DA charge Wright with armed robbery? Apparently he could, because that's what District Attorney Colon Willoughby, in essence, did.

When the jurors indicated they weren't buying the charge by asking if the charge included loan renewals, the judge said sure, if there was an ongoing scheme. In other words, just because Wright didn't have a gun when he got the money, he could still be guilty if he planned to get one when he obtained the money. Duh???

Democracy just took a big blow in Raleigh.

Fern Shubert is a former State Representative, State Senator, Town Manager and Candidate for Governer. She currently serves as the NC State Director of the National Right to Read Foundation.

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