I-Team: Durham insurance executive found guilty of bribery, political corruption

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WTVD) -- Greg Lindberg, the Durham insurance executive who was once North Carolina's biggest political donor, was found guilty on Thursday of federal charges of attempted bribery and corruption.

The jury's verdict caps a three-week trial and year-long political drama involving Democrats and Republicans, including the former chairman of the North Carolina GOP, Robin Hayes. Prosecutors accused Lindberg and his associates of seeking 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.

"This was not a lapse in judgment. It was a deliberate bribery attempt and a clear violation of federal law," Andrew Murray, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina, said in a statement. "Public corruption is a threat to our way of life and if left unchecked it can tear apart the very fabric of our country."

Lindberg, 49, is the founder and chairman of Eli Global LLC (Eli Global) and owner of Global Bankers Insurance Group (GBIG). The jury also convicted Chapel Hill resident and Lindberg consultant John Gray, 69, of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud and bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds. A third co-defendant, Eli Global executive John V. Palermo, 64, of Pittsboro, North Carolina, was acquitted.

Hayes, 74, was charged with lying to the FBI and plead guilty last year.

  • A WIRE TRIPS UP LINDBERG


Federal prosecutors first filed charges after Commissioner Causey reported concerns to the FBI about political contributions and other requests made by Lindberg and Gray, and agreed to cooperate with the federal investigation that was initiated.

The indictment even described meetings where Causey wore a wire to record conversations.

Evidence presented to the jury included those recordings, and witness testimony, describing Lindberg, Gray and Hayes engaging in a scheme involving independent expenditure accounts and improper campaign contributions for the purpose of causing the Commissioner to take official action favorable to Lindberg's company. Prosecutors also described how Lindberg and Gray promised Causey millions of dollars in campaign contributions and other things of value all for the removal of the NC Department of Insurance's Senior Deputy Commissioner - the person in charge of regulating and monitoring Eli Global and Global Bankers Insurance Group.

In his plea, Hayes admitted to lying to the FBI that he never spoke with Commissioner Causey.

"When I took office, I swore an oath to support and maintain the laws of this State and to faithfully discharge the duties of my office as Commissioner of Insurance," Causey said Thursday. "I also committed to rooting out insurance fraud and corruption wherever it may be, and to prosecute such fraud to the fullest extent of the law. It is with these guiding principles that I agreed to cooperate with the federal authorities in their investigation."

Causey, who took office in Jan. 2017, is running for reelection in November,

"I have worked with our professional staff to ensure that all companies are treated fairly and consistently, and that the policyholders of our State are protected. The verdict handed down today by the jury emphasizes this point and shows that the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance is not for sale."

LINDBERG'S POLITICAL HISTORY

An ABC11 I-Team Investigation tracked several years of Lindberg's reported campaign contributions, including more than $2 million to groups supporting Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who recently won the Republican primary to run for governor against incumbent Roy Cooper.

Data from the Federal Elections Commission shows Lindberg was one of the biggest donors in North Carolina, including money 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.

"I know these men and consider most of them friends. I have read the indictments and they are very troubling," Forest said in a statement April 2, 2019. "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."

Forest himself faces no charges nor is he being investigated for any alleged wrongdoing.

"Money is neutral," Forest told ABC11's news partner, the Raleigh News Observer. "There's nothing about somebody giving you money that is bad. If the money came from a nefarious purpose or something like that, that's different. But (others) received the money legally, we received the money legally."

DONATIONS TO DEMOCRATS

The I-Team also discovered Lindberg donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Mike Causey's predecessor, Wayne Goodwin, a Democrat and current chair of the North Carolina Democratic Party.

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.

"Any suggestion that I have ever taken any action in return for contributions is categorically false," Goodwin told ABC11 after Lindberg's arrest. "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."

SENTENCING SOON

Now that Lindberg and Gray were found guilty, it will be up to a federal judge to issue sentences for their crimes. The same will apply to Robin Hayes because of his guilty plea, and it's unlikely he'll spend time behind bars.

The N&O reports Lindberg and Gray could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison for one of the charges and up to 10 more years on the other.

A date has not been set yet for a hearing.
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