Three Perdue backers plead guilty to misdemeanors

ablythe@newsobserver.comApril 24, 2013 

— Three supporters of former Gov. Bev Perdue pleaded guilty Wednesday in Wake County Superior Court to misdemeanor obstruction of justice charges related to Perdue’s 2008 campaign finances.

Sentenced to unsupervised probation for 18 months were Trawick “Buzzy” Stubbs Jr., 70, a New Bern resident and longtime family friend of the former governor; Charles Michael Fulenwider, 65, a fast food restaurant owner from Morganton; and Robert Lee Caldwell, 74, a former state magistrate from Morganton.

Also, Caldwell, who was described as having a minor role, was ordered to pay $500. Stubbs and Fulenwider each were fined $5,000.

Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby says the pleas wrap up a long-running probe into undisclosed Perdue plane flights and a scheme to supplement a campaign fundraiser’s salary with private funds.

Prosecutors said Stubbs provided the campaign with flights on his private plane valued at more than $28,000, which should have been disclosed in campaign reports.

They contend Fulenwider funneled $32,000 to a Chapel Hill financial firm to help pay the salary of Juleigh Sitton, a fundraiser who was paid off the books. Sitton and Peter Reichard, Perdue’s former campaign finance chief and an executive with Tryon Capital Ventures, have already pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in the case.

Throughout the hearing, Judge Donald Stephens described Reichard as the initiator of the schemes.

Attorneys representing Stubbs, Fulenwider and Caldwell said their clients had participated unwittingly.

Stubbs, his attorneys said, had provided flights for a friend expecting to be repaid by the campaign.

Fulenwider had donated the maximum allowed by state law to Perdue’s campaign when he provided the money for Sitton’s salary. His attorney said he did not know that Sitton, a resident of Morganton, also was being paid by the campaign when he contributed money.

Stephens shook his head in disbelief several times. He said he wanted to hand down sentences that were reasonable for men who had achieved much in their lives and had no criminal records. But he also wanted to send a clear message to political campaigns about transparency.

“I don’t know what it is about politics that makes people take leave of their senses for a brief period of time and then have to be embarrassed about it,” he added.

Privately, many political organizers ask whether the cases should have been taken up by the state elections board instead of a criminal court.

Election law is so complicated now, attorneys said at the hearing, that similar cases might become more frequent.

“The campaign laws are so confusing and arcane that this very well could be coming to a campaign near you,” Raleigh attorney Wade Smith cautioned.

Blythe: 919-836-4948

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