Jim Black sentenced for bribery

STAFF WRITERJuly 16, 2009 

Former House Speaker Jim Black

FILE PHOTO BY CHRIS SEWARD

— The prosecution of former state House Speaker Jim Black wound to a close Thursday, when he received the minimum 11- to 14- month state sentence for bribery after having paid a $1 million fine.

But Black, who is already serving a 63-month sentence in federal prison, will serve his state sentence concurrently and will therefore likely not spend any additional time in a prison cell.

"He is an old man who is sick and who will stay in prison, perhaps the rest of his life," said Wake County Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens, in explaining his leniency. "I am under the impression that his wife is ill and may die while he is in prison."

Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby called the sentence "appropriate."

Black, 74, who is an optometrist, was sentenced to federal prison in 2007 after getting caught up in a fund raising scandal. The Mecklenburg Democrat had been one of the most powerful men in state government, able to strongly influence what bills became law.

Besides the federal charges, Black also faced state charges. He entered an Alford plea on the state charges, taking responsibility but not admitting guilt. He has already served the sentence for obstruction of justice.

But Stephens delayed sentencing on the bribery charge, saying he could avoid the maximum sentence if he paid a $1 million fine.

Black paid $500,000 in cash last summer and turned over undeveloped property near Charlotte this spring that was appraised at $613,000. The two parcels totaling 9.5 acres are on Rice Road in Matthews.

State fines and forfeitures go to the Wake County school system. One member of the Wake County School Board, Ron Margiotta, criticized the land transaction, saying that Black should have been required to provide cash. Margiotta questioned the appraisal, noting it was commissioned by Black’s family. He noted that the tax value of the property in 2003 was $149,000.

"We’ve got an appraisal done for a criminal," Margiotta said. "Give me a break."

Stephens was livid at the remarks, and summoned a Wake County school board attorney to his court room to be chewed out. The judge called the remarks "idiotic" and noted that he had not been obligated to levy any fine against Black.

"It's like giving your daughter a Toyota and her saying, 'Dad, I'd rather have a BMW," Stephens said. The judge said he would have to give serious thought to whether he would levy fines in the future that would benefit the Wake County school system.

Black is scheduled for release from federal prison in 2012. If he should be released before his concurrent state term ends, Stephens said he would be required to serve out his full state term unless it was commuted by the governor. Black was recently moved to a prison in Jessup Georgia.

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