Friday, October 30, 2020

Former NC congressman Robin Hayes gets probation for role in bribery scandal

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Republican Robin Hayes, a former congressman and elder statesman of North Carolina’s GOP, was sentenced to a year’s probation and a $9,500 fine Wednesday for his role in one of the state’s largest public corruption scandals.

Hayes, a former N.C. Republican Party chairman, stood in a Charlotte courtroom as he was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Max Cogburn. He faced up to six months in prison, though prosecutors and defense lawyers recommended probation.

“Your honor, I’m incredibly sorry,” Hayes told the judge, his voice breaking. “I’ve caused embarrassment, grief, (and) pain to members of my family. I apologize for what I’ve done. I’ll live with this for as long as I live.”

Hayes, 75, was one of four men indicted in 2019 on multiple charges in a sweeping federal bribery case.

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Durham businessman Greg Lindberg — one of the Republican Party’s biggest campaign contributors — and associate John Gray also faced sentencing Wednesday after being convicted. Another associate, John Palermo, was found not guilty.

“The people involved in this case were used to having their way,” Cogburn told the court.

The grandson of the Cannon Mills founder, Hayes is a former state lawmaker who was the GOP’s 1996 nominee for governor. On Wednesday he made his way to the courtroom haltingly with the aid of a hand-carved walking stick.

Although indicted on more serious public corruption charges, Hayes cooperated with federal investigators and pleaded guilty to a single count of lying to the FBI.

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In June, Hayes’s lawyers described their client’s “very public fall from grace” and said he will “regret lying to the FBI for the rest of his life . . . . No separate punishment would exceed the gravity of those consequences of his conviction.”

When recruited in 2018 to help funnel some $2 million in bribes to Republican Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey, Hayes said he was “more than happy to help,” according to court documents. It was part of an effort to get Causey to remove an assistant who was overseeing some of Lindberg’s businesses.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes were passed off as donations to the state GOP before being passed along to Causey, who alerted the FBI to the scheme. According to the original indictment, Hayes agreed to transfer $250,000 that Lindberg had given the state GOP to Causey’s campaign. That money was eventually returned to the government.

In a court document, Hayes acknowledged that in August 2018 he “falsely stated to federal agents . . . that he had never spoken” with Causey “about personnel or personnel problems at the . . . Department of Insurance or about Greg Lindberg or John Gray.”

‘I’ll get ‘er done’

In explaining their recommendation for probation, prosecutors cited Hayes’s plea agreement and his lack of a previous criminal record. Hayes was also prepared to testify against his partners in the scheme, a court filing indicates.

But prosecutors spared few words in outlining his crime.

On July 25, 2018, Lindberg and Gray, frustrated that the insurance inspector had not been replaced, called Hayes. They told him to move $250,000 of Lindberg’s money to Causey by the end of the week, court filings show.

Hayes expressed alarm that a contribution that large two years before the next election “was gonna draw attention.” But he agreed to move the money anyway. “… when you say do it, that, that’s easy, that’s easy … I’ll get ‘er done,” according to the filing.

In August 2018, when Hayes was scheduled to meet with the FBI, Gray called minutes before the interview to warn him that the agents were asking questions about the GOP’s transfers to Causey, court records show.

Once the interview began, Hayes lied about having any conversations with Lindberg about any contributions and how the money was to be used, the filing says. He also lied when asked if he had talked to Causey about the money or Causey’s pledge to make personnel moves at his department in Lindberg’s behalf.

More than a dozen people — including former Charlotte Mayor Richard Vinroot — offered testimonials to Hayes in letters to Judge Cogburn.

Vinroot said he met Hayes during their 1996 Republican gubernatorial primary.

“We contested long and hard, and endured much stress — as did our families and friends,” Vinroot wrote the judge. “Throughout that process Robin conducted himself at all times with honor and dignity, and as a gentleman — which he has continued to do in all of my encounters with him throughout the years since that time.”

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