Gov. Bev Perdue donor a ‘scapegoat’ for campaign’s failings, defense attorney says

jfrank@newsobserver.comMay 12, 2012 

— An attorney for one of Gov. Bev Perdue’s top donors says his client is a “scapegoat” for the campaign’s failure to properly disclose flights on private jets.

Attorney David Rudolf asked a Wake County judge to dismiss the case against Trawick “Buzzy” Stubbs, saying he did nothing wrong and instead put the blame on the Perdue campaign for not immediately reporting $28,000 in flights from 2008.

“They could have filed those reports on a timely basis and they didn’t,” said an animated Rudolf. “Mr. Stubbs is sitting here, in essence, as a scapegoat for what the campaigns weren’t doing right.”

Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby countered by telling the judge that Stubbs allegedly used a special account at his law firm to pay for the flights without ever invoicing the campaign. “Not only is it illegal,” he told the judge. “They kept it covered up.”

Stubbs was in Wake County Superior Court Friday accused of failing to report campaign donations. Another Perdue associate, Julia Leigh Sitton of Morganton, was also at the hearing. She faces felony charges of obstruction of justice and causing the filing of false reports. They both are pleading not guilty.

Rudolf, a high-profile Charlotte attorney, said he didn’t think Perdue’s campaign intended to do anything wrong – but his defense is predicated on the idea that the campaign should be on trial, not his client. He said state law puts the onus on the campaign to file campaign finance reports, not individual contributors.

Willoughby told the court that Perdue didn’t know about the arrangement and did not authorize Stubbs to coordinate or pay for the flights.

The prosecutor tried to steer the conversation away from the campaign and back to Stubbs, a New Bern attorney and former law partner with Perdue’s first husband. He provided 10 flights as part-owner of an airplane, well in excess of the $4,000 maximum contribution limit. Months after the flights, the Perdue campaign acknowledged their existence and later reimbursed Stubbs for the cost.

Willoughby noted that it is illegal for Stubbs to advance the campaign money. “It’s not the campaign’s fault,” he said, “they didn’t know he was acting like a travel agent.”

At the hearing, defense attorneys also sought to dismiss the case against Sitton, the governor’s former campaign aide and western office director. The indictment alleges that she hid how part of her salary was paid. It claims that the money was funneled from a wealthy Perdue donor through a Chapel Hill investment bank run by the campaign’s finance director, Peter Reichard. SBI agent K. Perry revealed in testimony that Perdue’s campaign manager Zach Ambrose saw a proposed agreement to pay Sitton through the donor, Charles Michael Fulenwilder but it wasn't the final deal inked with Reichard.

Sitton’s attorneys asked to dismiss the case claiming it is unprecedented for an illegal campaign contribution to become an obstruction of justice charge. Defense attorney Joe Zeszotarski also contends that it wasn’t Sitton’s obligation to report the payments, saying it was the campaign’s responsibility.

Superior Court Judge Abe Jones said he would rule next week on the motions to dismiss the indictments against the two campaign associates and other procedural arguments from the defense seeking to end the case. A tentative trial date for Stubbs is set for June 11 with Sitton’s trial expected later.

Reichard pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in December. He received a $25,000 fine and two years probation in which he was banned from working on political campaigns.

Willoughby has said previously that Perdue was not the focus of his investigation. On Friday, he said it is unlikely the governor will be called to testify. “I can’t imagine that being beneficial to either side here,” he said.

Frank: 919-829-4698

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