If all goes as scheduled, former Rep. Thomas Wright will be released from prison May 26, not long after next year’s short legislative session begins.
By then, Wright, a Wilmington Democrat, would have served more than six years in jail on four corruption-related felonies he committed while serving in the House last decade. He’s been locked up since April 7, 2008.
His maximum prison term was nearly eight years, but Wright is projected to serve the minimum sentence in part because of his work in prison. He currently is a clerk to the prison chaplain at New Hanover Correctional Center, a minimum-security facility in Wilmington with more than 390 inmates. Wright has also worked as a janitor, a teacher’s assistant and in the kitchen while in prison, said Keith Acree, a spokesman for the Division of Adult Correction.
He also hasn’t gotten into any trouble – he has no infractions – so he hasn’t had any time added for that. Acree said Wright wouldn’t get out any earlier than May 26.
“He’s maximized the sentence credits he can earn,” he said.
Wright, 58, was expelled from the General Assembly in March 2008, becoming the first sitting legislator thrown out of office since 1880. He had represented parts of New Hanover and Pender counties in the House for about 15 years before his conviction.
He was convicted in April 2008 of three counts of fraud after a jury decided he had mishandled $7,400 in charitable contributions and fraudulently obtained a $150,000 bank loan. He later was found guilty of felony obstruction of justice after he hindered state elections officials who were investigating his failure to report $150,000 in campaign contributions over a seven-year period.
He has completed sentences for three of the four crimes and is currently serving the longest of his sentences – a minimum of four years, 10 months for a class C felony.
Wright’s name was mentioned several times on the last day of session during House floor debate about a bill that would give N.C. Supreme Court justices the power to decide whether to discipline fellow justices with complaints of misconduct filed against them. A panel of senior Court of Appeals judges currently would hear any case involving a justice. Proponents of the change argued that the House was the best body to determine whether to expel Wright and that the Supreme Court should review cases involving its members.
Rep. Rick Glazier, D-Cumberland, who argued against the bill, said he was a chairman of the special House committee whose hearings led to a recommendation that Wright be removed from the House. He said that situation was different and he didn’t want to hear it used to bolster the opposition’s arguments.
“That was the worst couple of months of our lives in this public service,” Glazier said.
Patrick Gannon writes for the NCInsider.com, a government news service owned by The News & Observer. For more information, visit www.ncinsider.com.