STILL GUILTY: same result in retrial of federal bribery case that brought down NCGOP chairman

North Carolina politics had a special case of deja vu all over again this week.  We had a retrial of the 2020 federal case against Triangle-area based businessman Eric Lindberg  who stood accused of trying to bribe state insurance commissioner Mike Causey.  All kinds of North Carolina pols made cameo appearances in this investigation, and some even got money.  Here are the details from the retrial:

Greg Lindberg, troubled financier and former owner of Colorado Bankers Life Insurance Co., was found guilty Wednesday for a second time of bribing the North Carolina insurance commissioner.

The jury returned unanimous guilty verdicts for Lindberg, 53, and consultant John Gray on the two counts they were charged with: bribery and conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud, according to court documents.

Lindberg’s spokeswoman did not return a message seeking comment, or whether he plans to appeal the verdict. He faces up to 30 years in prison, the U.S. Attorney’s office said.

“The defendants planned and executed an intricate scheme involving substantial campaign contributions to an elected official in exchange for favorable treatment. This was not a lapse in judgment. It was a calculated bribery attempt and a blatant violation of federal law,” said U.S. Attorney Dena J. King.

Lindberg was convicted in 2020 on bribery and fraud charges, along with Gray.

According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, from April 2017 to August 2018, Lindberg, of Durham, N.C., the founder and chairman of Eli Global and the owner of Global Bankers Insurance Group, and Gray, 73, of Chapel Hill, N.C., engaged in a bribery scheme involving independent expenditure committees and improper campaign contributions to persaude Causey to take official action favorable to GBIG, the U.S. Attorney’s office said in a press release.

Lindberg and Gray gave, offered, and promised the commissioner millions of dollars in campaign contributions and other things of value in exchange for the removal of NCDOI’s senior deputy commissioner, who was responsible for overseeing the regulation and the periodic examination of GBIG, the release said.

Lindberg, Gray, and Causey held numerous in-person meetings at different locations and had telephonic and other communications with each other, their co-defendant, Robert Cannon Hayes, 78, of Concord, N.C., and others 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, the release said.

To conceal the bribery scheme, at the direction of Lindberg, two corporate entities were set up to form independent expenditure committees with the purpose of supporting Causey’s re-election campaign, and Lindberg funded the entities with $1.5 million.In addition, at Lindberg’s and Gray’s direction, Hayes helped transfer of $250,000 from Lindberg’s contributions to a North Carolina state party, of which Hayes was chairman, to Causey’s re-election campaign.

“Greg Lindberg and John Gray knowingly ignored the difference between legal political donations and felonious bribery,” said Special Agent in Charge Robert M. DeWitt. “They thought they could buy changes to North Carolina Department of Insurance personnel to benefit Lindberg’s businesses.”

Hayes pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI in 2019. Lindberg served 633 days of an 87-month sentence, and later wrote a book about the experience.

A June 2022 ruling by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the conviction. The appeals court ruled that the trial judge improperly lowered the prosecution’s burden of proof by telling the jury that the staffing change was an “official act,” one of the elements of the fraud conspiracy charge.

Lindberg, founder of the private equity firm Eli Global, eventually acquired several insurers and grouped them together as the Global Bankers Insurance Group. Insurance profits soared and ultimately enabled Lindberg to funnel $2 billion to Eli Global, according to a Wall Street Journal report. That attracted regulators and initiated Lindberg’s downfall.

Lindberg made a special agreement with former insurance commissioner Wayne Goodwin allowing him to invest up to 40% of his insurance companies’ assets into affiliated business entities. In November 2016, Goodwin lost his seat to Causey, who reduced the cap on affiliated investments from 40% to 10%. […]

This case has relevance to 2024’s politics because newly-anointed GOP lieutenant governor nominee Hal Weatherman – then Lt. Governor Dan Forest’s chief of staff and top political adviser –  had a cameo appearance in the earlier Lindberg saga:

[…] News broke months back about Eric Lindberg donating more than $2 million to PACs tied to Forest.  Yet, not a word was said about it from the lieutenant governor’s team.  Not after word came out that Lindberg was being investigated.  Not even after word emerged about party chairman Robin Hayes, Lindberg, and two others being indicted by the feds.

Finally, the drive bys got Lt. Dan to speak up.  And what did he say?  Forest described the indictees as “good guys” and “friends of mine.”    (To quote Homer Simpson: “D’Oh !!!”)   These “good guys” and “friends” stand accused of wire fraud and lying to federal agents, among other charges

Just to  make sure there were no arguments about a misquote, the Democrats have released a video featuring footage of Forest, on camera, describing the indicted foursome as “good guys” and “friends.”   (Once again, “D’Oh !!!)

Then, we learned that Lindberg was a co-chairman of Forest’s 50th birthday celebration (“D’Oh!!!”):

[…] On Tuesday, Forest referred to Lindberg as a “friend” and campaign spokesman Hal Weatherman acknowledged a couple ways the men are connected. 

Lindberg gave $1.4 million to the North Carolina Republican Council of State Committee, which Forest chairs. For that committee, Forest appeared in a tongue-in-cheek video that instructs voters how to commit voter fraud.

Lindberg also gave $1 million to the NC-registered super PAC “Truth and Prosperity,” for which Forest has raised money.

But Lindberg hasn’t contributed to Forest’s official campaign account, the Committee to Elect Dan Forest, Weatherman said.

However, a party invitation sent by Forest’s committee in 2017 gives the impression that Lindberg donated the legal maximum to Forest’s campaign.

The Committee to Elect Dan Forest invited people to celebrate Forest’s 50th birthday in October 2017, according to a digital invitation obtained by McClatchy. The invitation says a donor can be listed as a “co-chair” if he or she gives $5,200. Lindberg is listed as a co-chair.

Weatherman, contacted by email Thursday, says Lindberg wasn’t required to donate to be listed as a co-chair of the party.

“Mr. Lindberg did not contribute, therefore a disclosure was not necessary,” Weatherman said in an email, referring to the Committee to Elect Dan Forest. “We routinely allow people to be listed as a host or sponsor of an event, even when they have made no contribution.” […] 

I asked some  professional political fundraisers about this particular issue.  They told me that this would be quite unusual.  Listing someone as a chairman or co-chairman, without requiring a donation, is an honor typically reserved for a local elected official.  And Lindberg was not one of those. […]