Greg Lindberg, the billionaire businessman at the heart of one of North Carolina’s worst government corruption scandals, will spend more than seven years in prison, a federal judge ruled Wednesday in Charlotte.
U.S. District Judge Max Cogburn also ordered Lindberg to pay a $35,000 fine and placed him on three years’ probation for his scheme to bribe Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey with up to $2 million in campaign contributions.
Eventually, Lindberg, one of the state’s largest political donors who wrote checks to both parties, funneled $250,000 earmarked for Causey through the state Republican Party, an illicit transaction handled by the party’s chairman, former Republican congressman Robin Hayes of Concord.
Cogburn said he intended Lindberg’s punishment to carry a message: “Our government in North Carolina should not be for sale.”
Lindberg received seven years and three months for each of two corruption counts of which he was convicted in March. The sentences will run concurrently. Lindberg will also serve three years of probation after his release.
His attorneys had asked Cogburn to limit Lindberg’s punishment to one or two years.The Asheville-based judge would have none of that.
“What kind of deterrence are we going to have if millionaires are allowed to pay seven-figure bribes?” Cogburn told the courtroom.
“We have a serious breach of the law. We’ve got to deter people who think it’s a good idea to bribe officials in North Carolina.”
An appeal by the 50-year-old father of four is all but guaranteed. His defense team had asked Cogburn to allow their client to remain free on bond while his case makes its way through the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The judge refused. But he said he will allow Lindberg to self-report to prison at his assigned date.
Indicted on the same corruption charges as Lindberg, Hayes chose to cooperate with the investigation and pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of lying to the FBI. Earlier Wednesday, Cogburn sentenced him to a year of probation and a $9,500 fine.
John Gray, an associate of Lindberg’s and a participant in the bribery conspiracy, received a 2 1/2-year sentence and two years’ probation. His attorneys had asked for home confinement. Prosecutors had recommended 10 years.
Lindberg’s punishment was a little more than half the time that prosecutors had wanted. They said a 14-year sentence matched the seriousness of Lindberg’s crimes, the size of his prospective bribe, and his lack of remorse.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Bill Stetzer told Cogburn that if the defendant had gotten his way, “The Department of Insurance would be a wholly owned subsidiary of Lindberg’s company.”
“The harm in this case is intangible but immense,” Stetzer said. “And the deterrent has to be immense.”