I-Team: Durham businessman charged with bribery also spent big money supporting Democrats

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- The businessman accused to trying to bribe the North Carolina Commissioner of Insurance has spent millions of dollars in past campaign contributions, including to the current chairman of the North Carolina Democratic Party.

Greg E. Lindberg, Founder and Chairman of Eli Global LLC, and owner of Global Bankers Insurance Group, was arrested Tuesday, along with two of his associates, John D. Gray, and John V. Palermo. A federal grand jury indicted the trio after a lengthy investigation. Investigators say Lindberg wanted favorable treatment from the Department of Insurance -- the state's top consumer watchdog -- in return for supporting the re-election campaign of Commissioner Mike Causey.

Robin Hayes, the outgoing chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party, was also arrested for his role in the alleged scheme, nd is also charged with lying to the FBI.

An ABC11 I-Team Investigation tracked several years of Lindberg's reported campaign contributions, which between 2017 and 2018 totaled $2.018 million.

Data from the Federal Elections Commission shows most of that money was given directly to Republican candidates and/or groups supporting those candidates, including: the NCGOP ($500,000); Republican National Committee ($237,300); National Republican Congressional Committee ($294,800); Rep. Mark Walker ($150,000 to the Mark Walker Victory Committee, $33,900 to Walker Freedom Fund); Rep. Richard Hudson ($78,200 to Hudson Freedom Fund, $5,400 to Hudson for Congress); and the National Republican Senate Committee ($35,000).

Hudson, the Republican representing North Carolina's 8th Congressional District, told the I-Team he met Lindberg "a couple of times" but "doesn't know him well." A spokesman for Hudson added that Hudson has since directed his campaign treasurer to donate money given by Lindberg to charity and will not accept money from him again.

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who's expected to be the NCGOP nominee to run against Gov. Roy Cooper in 2020, has also received financial support from Lindberg.

"I know these men and consider most of them friends," Forest said to ABC11 on Tuesday. "I have read the indictments and they are very troubling. I believe in the presumption of innocence and thus will withhold judgment. But I agree with the rule of law and if laws were broken, then justice should be served. They are facing serious charges."

SUPPORT FOR FORMER COMMISSIONER OF INSURANCE -- A DEMOCRAT

According to its website, Global Bankers Insurance Group is a worldwide company that manages several insurers that mostly write life-insurance policies. The indictment, unsealed only this week, reveals GBIG's finances were being audited by the North Carolina Department of Insurance, one of the state's leading consumer watchdogs.

Lindberg, thus, was allegedly trying to woo the NCDOI, and its Republican commissioner, Mike Causey, to agree to put someone of Lindberg's choosing in charge of that audit.

Nonetheless, the I-Team discovered Lindberg donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Causey's predecessor, Wayne Goodwin, a Democrat.

Goodwin is now the chairman of the North Carolina Democratic Party.

"As has been relayed to me, I am not the subject of an investigation and have cooperated with investigators in their inquiry," Goodwin said in response to ABC11's questions. "I do not recall being asked to take or direct any action to help Greg Lindberg or his companies during my time as Insurance Commissioner and do not recall him or his companies being raised for my review."

An ABC11 I-Team analysis of campaign finance reports from the North Carolina Board of Elections reveals major gifts to Goodwin's 2016 campaign and its supporters, including $450,000 to a group called NC Opportunity Committee, and $10,000 directly to the Goodwin Committee.

Records show Lindberg also contributed $500,000 to the North Carolina Democratic Party.

"On any complex insurance regulatory matters -- particularly those involving accounting, actuarial science, financial analysis and examinations, and highly technical items, such as on this particular topic - like my predecessor of many years, I deferred to the subject matter experts within the department and their expert recommendations or decisions," Goodwin added. "Any suggestion that I have ever taken any action in return for contributions is categorically false."

In his statement to ABC11, Goodwin also responded head-on to potential business associations with Lindberg.

"I joined an outside consulting firm as an independent contractor tasked with attending out-of-state conferences, meetings, lectures, and receptions to keep dozens of the firm's clients, including Eli Global and Global Bankers Insurance, up-to-date with industry developments and insights," he said. "My limited Global work began several months after concluding my Commissioner service and was no different than with my other clients, a great majority of whom have come through that national firm. My consulting services for Eli Global and Global Bankers Insurance have long since ended."

NCGOP NAMES NEW INTERIM CHAIRMAN

In his first official comments since his arrest, Robin Hayes announced on Wednesday the appointment of Aubrey Woodard as Acting Chair of the North Carolina Republican Party.

"In the best interest of the party, I make this announcement today and will let our respected officers lead on a temporary basis until our regularly planned party elections this June," Hayes said.

"After a long and distinguished career in public service at the local, state, and federal levels, Robin volunteered his time helping to support the Party and candidates for office in North Carolina. We look forward to a swift conclusion to this matter and clearing his name," said Hayes' attorney Kearns Davis. "Meanwhile Mr. Hayes, in accordance with NCGOP Rules, will allow others to lead while he heals from recent health setbacks."

Woodard, the 11th District Chair and former chair of the Transylvania County Republican Party, takes the reins at a critical time for the party, which next year will help host the 2020 Republican National Convention in Charlotte. The party is also still reeling from the controversy surrounding voter fraud in the 9th Congressional District.

"The North Carolina Republican Party is governed by a strong set of rules and governing structure," Woodard maintained. "While I empathize with Mr. Hayes and believe in him, this is the best move for the NCGOP during this brief time of transition. I look forward helping the NCGOP as we head into the State Convention."
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