Chatham GOP entangled with federal indictment

BY CASEY MANN, News + Record Staff
Posted 4/2/19

Three men with direct ties to the Chatham County Republican Party are among a group who were named in an indictment in federal court Tuesday on charges of corruption and attempted bribery.John …

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Chatham GOP entangled with federal indictment

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Three men with direct ties to the Chatham County Republican Party are among a group who were named in an indictment in federal court Tuesday on charges of corruption and attempted bribery.

John Palermo, a former Chatham GOP chairman, and party donors John Gray and Greg Lindberg, along with current N.C. Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes, appeared Tuesday in the Western District Court of North Carolina in Charlotte in response to allegations that the men attempted to bribe state Insurance Comissioner Mike Causey to take favorable action for Lindberg’s company, Eli Global.

The indictment states that Palermo, Gray, Lindberg and Hayes promised Causey millions of dollars in campaign contributions, given through an independent committee, in exchange for the removal of a senior deputy commissioner who had oversight of Eli Global, a multinational investment and information firm.

U.S. Attorney Andrew Murray said in a press release that the “alleged scheme” was uncovered thanks to Causey’s “voluntary reporting.”

“Improper campaign contributions erode the public’s trust in our political institutions,” Murray said. “We will work with our law enforcement partners to investigate allegations of public corruption, safeguard the integrity of the democratic process, and prosecute those who compromise it.”

According to allegations in the indictment, Lindberg, Gray, Palermo and Hayes “devised a scheme to defraud and deprive the citizens of the honest services of the Commissioner, an elected state official, through bribery.” That scheme involved holding multiple in-person meetings with Causey in multiple locations and other forms of communications “to discuss Lindberg’s request for the personnel change in exchange for millions of dollars, and to devise a plan on how to funnel campaign contributions to the Commissioner anonymously.”

Palermo, who was the Chatham County Republican Party Chairman at the time of the donation, has been employed as a vice president of Eli Global since October 2017, according to Palermo’s LinkedIn account. Palermo also listed Eli Global as his employer on North Carolina Board of Election filings.
Lindberg donated $100,000 to the Chatham County Republican Executive Committee last April, according to contribution records from the N.C. State Board of Elections. During the same election cycle, Gray donated a total of $10,725 to the Chatham County Republican Party.

Last year, the News + Record reported that Lindberg had donated approximately $450,000 to the North Carolina Opportunity Committee, an independent expenditure political committee, according to finance filings. In the North Carolina Opportunity Committee’s October 2017 filing, John Palermo is listed as the PAC’s treasurer. In May, Palermo closed the North Carolina Opportunity Committee and opened the American Growth and Opportunity Committee Inc. with a $500,000 donation from Lindberg, according the North Carolina Board of Election filings.

The Department of Justice press release also notes that, at Lindberg and Gray’s direction, Hayes “allegedly caused the transfer of $250,000 from monies Lindberg had previously contributed to a North Carolina state party of which Hayes was Chairman, to the Commissioner’s re-election campaign.”

Lindberg, Gray, Palermo and Hayes all face charges of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud and bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds and aiding and abetting, according to the press release. Hayes has also been charged with three counts of making false statements.

U.S. Rep. Mark Walker, a Republican representing Chatham County, may also be part of the story. National news outlets like Politico have named Walker as “Public Official A,” referenced in the indictment as receiving a payment of $150,000 from Lindberg. “Public Official A” was also referenced in texts and emails, obtained by the Department of Justice, as having “already made two calls on our behalf and is trying to help us move the ball forward,” as stated by one of Lindberg’s associates in a February 2018 email to Lindberg. That same month, the Mark Walker Victory Committee received $150,000 from Lindberg, according to Federal Elections Commission documents.

In a statement to the News + Record, Walker spokesman Jack Minor Jr. said the February contribution “went to the Republican National Committee and did not benefit Walker’s campaign.”
“Walker is not and never has been a target of this investigation, and has committed no wrongdoing,” Minor said. “He has assisted the DOJ.”

In a press release, N.C. GOP Counsel Josh Howard said the party was “made aware” of the indictments Tuesday morning regarding “the conduct of a major donor to both major political parties and two of his associates,” but did not mention the charges against Hayes.

“The Party has been cooperating with the investigation for several months, including staff members providing statements and responding to various document requests,” Howard said. “The Party, which has its day to day operations managed by professional staff under the direction of the NCGOP Central Committee, remains fully operatoinal and focused on its mission at hand.”

The FBI is in charge of the investigation, which is still ongoing. The News + Record will update the story at as more information becomes available.


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