Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Judge orders billionaire Greg Lindberg to report to prison after conviction for bribery

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Try as he might to extend his freedom, Durham businessman and convicted felon Greg Lindberg will become a federal inmate on Tuesday.

Lindberg, the billionaire at the center of one of North Carolina’s worst political-corruption scandals, has been ordered to report to FPC-Montgomery, a minimum-security prison camp in Montgomery, Ala., to begin an 87-month bribery sentence. His lawyers recently argued unsuccessfully that Lindberg should avoid serving time until a COVID-19 vaccine is found, citing health concerns.

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The 50-year-old father of four, one of the state’s largest political donors, was convicted in March in Charlotte of trying to bribe state Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey.

According to testimony during the trial, Lindberg promised Causey up to $2 million in campaign donations if the office-holder removed a staff member who was regulating one of Lindberg’s companies.

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In August, U.S. District Judge Max Cogburn sentenced Lindberg to more than seven years in prison. Prosecutors asked for double that time, saying that Lindberg and his accomplices had attempted to undermine state government.

Lindberg associate John Gray was also convicted during the trial and received a 2 1/2-year sentence.

Former state Republican Party chairman Robin Hayes, who initially faced the same bribery charges as Lindberg, pleaded guilty to the lesser offense of lying to the FBI. He received probation and a fine.

According to court documents, the former U.S. representative from Concord agreed to funnel $250,000 of Lindberg’s money through the state GOP and into Causey’s campaign account.

Lindberg has appealed his conviction to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. He and his attorneys have long maintained that he did nothing wrong. Meanwhile, they accuse Causey of entrapping Lindberg because he supported Causey’s opponent in the 2016 election.

In a widely circulated “open letter” following his sentencing, Lindberg said he was confident that the appeals court will either reverse his conviction or order a new trial.

He also accused his trial judge of procedural errors that violated his right to due process and other constitutional protections.

In his latest attempt to avoid prison, Lindberg asked Cogburn to delay his reporting date so be could better assist in his appeal.

Lindberg’s attorneys also argued that he should remain free on safety grounds.

Citing their client’s age and a pre-existing medical condition — sleep apnea — the defense team argued that Lindberg was a greater risk to contract a severe case of COVID-19 while in prison and should not have to report until a coronavirus vaccine is found.

More than 15,000 federal inmates have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. The disease has killed 126 federal inmates and two prison staff members.

In response to Lindberg’s requests, federal prosecutors argued that the uncertainty of when a vaccine might become available meant Lindberg’s sentence would be delayed indefinitely.

In a filing this week, the government attorneys also told Cogburn that the prison camp where Lindberg will report has had only one confirmed case of COVID-19.

In addition, they said, sleep apnea is not included on the Centers for Disease Control’s list of diseases that increase the risks for a severe form of COVID-19.

Finally, prosecutors argued that Lindberg can participate in his own defense while in prison, just like any other inmate.

Cogburn agreed.

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The Asheville judge pointed out that the only case of COVID-19 at the Alabama prison involved a staff member, not an inmate.

As for Lindberg’s contention that he should remain free until is vaccine is available, Cogburn borrowed wording from Lindberg’s prosecutors.

“To allow Defendant to delay reporting until a vaccine is developed would be to allow him to delay reporting indefinitely,” the judge wrote, “and this would not serve the ends of justice.”

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