Judge Rejects Plea Deal in Hobbs Case
The criminal case against former state Sen. Fred Hobbs was continued again Thursday in Moore County District Court after Judge Lee Gavin turned down a plea deal agreed to by the state.
It had been continued last month when Judge Jayrene Maness recused herself from the case.
Gavin did not state a reason for his refusal to accept the plea presented by Assistant District Attorney Warren McSweeney.
Hobbs had agreed to plead guilty to making illegal campaign contributions. The misdemeanor charge alleges he made illegal corporate contributions to the 2008 political campaigns of Gov. Beverly Perdue and former Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight. Hobbs, acting as an officer of his company, Hobbs, Upchurch & Associates, allegedly "made or caused to be made" illegal contributions.
"The guilty plea covers contributions to Marc Basnight and Bev Perdue made during the 2008 campaign cycle," District Attorney Maureen Krueger said. "Six Hobbs & Upchurch employees made contributions to these candidates in the amount of $52,000. Afterward, Fred Hobbs reimbursed the employees with company checks."
Last year, Hobbs met with the Wake County district attorney's office, where he and the employees in question all voluntarily submitted to interviews with the State Board of Elections, according to Krueger. On Dec. 9, the state board fined Hobbs $150,000 for illegally "making political contributions in the name of another" as a result of a settlement agreement with him.
That investigation came in response to a complaint filed by former state Republican Party Chairman Tom Fetzer, who said political donations by employees of Hobbs, Upchurch & Associates looked suspicious.
Over the course of 11 years, Hobbs had funneled about $148,000 to various campaigns, according to his attorney, Michael Weisel. Corporations are prohibited by state law to donate money to political campaigns.
Individuals cannot give more than $4,000 per candidate per election. It is also illegal to pass money to a campaign through another person, as Hobbs admitted doing. Purdue's and Basnight's campaigns had to turn the money over to the state.
The Wake County district attorney's office handed the case over to the Moore County district attorney's office in December 2010.
Hobbs "cooperated completely with the investigation and provided documentation of all the financial transactions in questions, including copies of the checks," Krueger said. "At the time of the offense, this charge was a misdemeanor of the same rank as an expired registration or speeding 75 in a 55 and with a maximum fine of $1,000 and no jail time."
The plea deal Gavin turned down would have required Hobbs pay a $20,000 fine and perform 100 hours of community service as a condition of his probation.
"While the state could have filed additional charges, those still could not have resulted in any jail time," Krueger said. "Even if tried and convicted, he could not receive any greater punishment that the one in the plea agreement Judge Gavin rejected."
Contact John Chappell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More like this story