Former Perdue aide pleads guilty in campaign finance case

cjarvis@newsobserver.comSeptember 21, 2012 

COLLEGE_2

Juleigh Sitton

COURTESY EMILY WILLIAMSON

— A former campaign aide to Gov. Bev Perdue on Friday pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice for her role in a scheme that padded her salary for the governor with under-the-table payments.

Juleigh Sitton, 50, of Morganton was fined $5,000 and restricted from engaging in political activity for a year: She cannot be employed by a political candidate, party or campaign, nor can she receive or solicit money from them while she is on probation. The plea agreement came as Sitton was waiting to go on trial on a charge of felony obstruction of justice and a campaign-law violation. She pleaded guilty to misdemeanor obstruction, and the other charge was dismissed.

Wake County Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens said he has seen politics lead people astray before.

“I have found perfectly rational, perfectly honorable people seem to take leave of their senses during an election cycle and do really foolish things,” Stephens said. “Even though this is sheer political foolishness, it still rises to the level of criminal conduct.”

Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby used the occasion to lament the collision of money and politics. He said campaign-finance violations used to be considered minor offenses, but do tremendous damage to the public’s confidence in democracy.

“Like termites in a house, you don’t even see the damage until it’s already over,” Willoughby told the judge. “People lose confidence in the government when it looks like the electoral process is not being conducted in an open and fair way.”

Sitton admitted to receiving secret payments totaling $30,000 during Perdue’s 2008 run for governor from Charles Fulenwider, a Perdue donor in Morganton. The money was funneled through a fundraiser’s investment bank and was not reported on Perdue’s campaign statements, as required by law.

The fundraiser, Perdue’s campaign finance director Peter Reichard, in December entered a felony plea to an obstruction charge and was fined $25,000 and placed on two years’ probation, during which time he is prohibited from political activities. Fulenwider was not charged.

Sitton quietly answered a series of questions from the judge on Friday, but offered no statement on her own behalf. The plea bargain allows Sitton to keep her law license. She hasn’t practiced law since 2004. After the election, she became the director of the governor’s Western North Carolina office.

“I’m glad it’s over,” Sitton told reporters outside the courtroom, but declined to talk about the case.

A third associate of the governor is still awaiting trial: Trawick “Buzzy” Stubbs, a New Bern attorney and law partner of Perdue’s first husband, is accused of providing more than $28,000 worth of undisclosed flights for Perdue’s campaign, a campaign-finance violation.

Jarvis: 919-829-4576

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