Lindberg indictment reveals additional ties to Chatham GOP

Posted 4/12/19

As the news of the indictments spread last week of men with ties to the Chatham County Republican Party, new information beyond the scope of the indictment is also coming to light.

Last week, the …

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Lindberg indictment reveals additional ties to Chatham GOP

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Posted

As the news of the indictments spread last week of men with ties to the Chatham County Republican Party, new information beyond the scope of the indictment is also coming to light.

Last week, the former chairman of the Chatham County Republican Party, John Palermo, donor John D. Gray and N.C. Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes were indicted along with Greg Lindberg, a Durham businessman who owns Eli Global, on charges of public corruption and intent to bribe N.C. Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey.

The defendants made their initial appearances April 2 before U.S. Magistrate Judge David C. Keesler in federal court in Charlotte.

“The indictment unsealed today outlines a brazen bribery scheme in which Greg Lindberg and his coconspirators allegedly offered hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions in exchange for official action that would benefit Lindberg’s business interests,” said Brian Benczkowski, assistant attorney general of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Criminal Division.

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. Palermo, who was the Chatham GOP’s 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. During the same election cycle, Gray donated a total of $10,725 to the Chatham County Republican Party.

Throughout the election cycle, the Chatham County Republican Party spent about $151,000 of the more than $215,000 it had in its coffers, according to records. The local party gave about $40,000 to political committees. Both Brian Bock and Neill Lindley, who were running for county commissioner positions in Chatham County at the time — both lost their bids — received about $5,000 from the party during the election cycle.

At the time of News + Record’s October coverage of the Lindberg donation, Bock noted that the candidates had been explicitly informed that the Lindberg money was not available for their campaigns’ use, and felt the money should be directed to an educational fund. State Board of Elections filings, however, note that both Bock and Lindley received donations on October 1 that elevated the level of the local party’s support to $5,000.

The Chatham County GOP also supported General Assembly candidates Jay Stobbs (who lost the N.C. House District 54 race to Rep. Robert Reives II) and Tom Glendinning (who lost the N.C. Senate District 23 race to Sen. Valerie Foushee), with Stobbs receiving about $6,000 while Glendinning received about $1,600, according to N.C. Board of Elections filings.

The Chatham County Republican Party also gave the N.C. Republican Party $20,000 over two payments — $5,000 on October 1 and $15,000 on October 15. At the time, N.C. Republican Party Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse noted the donation was earmarked to support a technology project at the Chatham County GOP including new websites with the ability to capture user data. However, according to Board of Elections filings, the Chatham GOP spent $2,000 in support for Nationbuilder, the software behind the group’s website. The party still had about $88,000 in its accounts as last year’s end-of-the-year filing, the last the Board of Elections has on record.

Palermo and Gray did not immediately respond to requests for comment from the News + Record.

Over the past few years, Lindberg has become one of the state’s most prolific political donors. A majority of those he supported were Republicans and entities supporting them. Groups associated with N.C. Lt. Gov. Dan Forest’s campaign received $2.4 million, and committees tied to U.S. Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.), who represents Chatham County, got more than $150,000.

But Lindberg also supported Democratic candidates and committees. In 2016, he donated nearly $20,000 to the re-election campaign of Wayne Goodwin, former insurance commissioner and current chairman of the N.C. Democratic Party. Lindberg also contributed $450,000 to an independent group, one whose treasurer was Palermo, that supported Goodwin, including $100,000 nearly a year after Goodwin’s loss, according to N.C. Board of Elections reports.

Causey has noted in numerous media reports that under Goodwin’s tenure, Lindberg’s companies thrived under loosening regulations. Lindberg’s insurance companies, which are often regulated to maintain a certain level of cash to support potential claims, were able to move up to 40 percent of their funds — the Wall Street Journal reported the figure was at least $2 billion — to other businesses owned by Lindberg. News reports say Goodwin has also performed consultant work for several of Lindberg’s companies.

“There were some exceptions made here and it was different than what they had done with other companies,” Causey told media outlets.

Last October, the Chatham County Democratic Party passed a resolution that requested the N.C. Democratic and Republican parties remove all the funds received by Lindberg and send the funds to non-profit groups based in North Carolina that assist the victims of hurricanes Florence and Michael. Chatham’s Democrats passed the resolution again at their county convention on March 30, two days before the indictments were announced.

Former state Democratic Party Chair and ex-Mayor of Pittsboro Randy Voller, who authored both of the county-level resolutions, said he attemped to present a simliar resolution at the state level, but faced pushback, most recently at a meeting of the party’s Executive Council in January.

He alleged party executive director Kimberly Reynolds was “not interested in having the discussion” and that she said the funds were “legally obtained” from a legal donor.

“Her answer did not sit well with me at the time as I felt that this attitude was out of step with our party’s platform,” Voller said, “and that we should divest our party of said funds and insist that the Republicans do the same.”

This story will be updated at chathamnewsrecord.com as new details emerge.

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