Rick Gates, the Washington lobbyist and former campaign aide to Donald Trump who is now caught up in the Russia probe, had to grapple with another political scandal 12 years ago in North Carolina.
Gates, 45, who recently entered a guilty plea and is expected to cooperate with the Russia investigation, was a senior vice president of Scientific Games just as a scandal broke out over its role in the creation of a new state lottery and its efforts to win the contract to run the games.
Shortly after the lottery’s passage by the General Assembly in 2005, The News & Observer reported that a Scientific Games vice president, Alan Middleton, had hired then-House Speaker Jim Black’s unpaid political director, Meredith Norris, to “monitor legislation” related to the lottery. Middleton had not registered Norris, a former legislative aide to Black who had left to become a lobbyist.
Records the N&O subsequently obtained from the speaker’s office showed Norris invited lawmakers and Black aides to a dinner in June with Middleton, and sought to invite them to a yacht cruise with him in August.
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It was the start of criminal probes that led to Norris and Middleton receiving misdemeanor convictions for violating the lobbying law, and exposed their efforts to land a former business associate of Middleton’s -- Kevin Geddings -- on the newly-formed state lottery commission that would select a lottery operator. Scientific Games later disclosed it had been paying Geddings as a communications consultant.
Geddings was convicted on felony charges after a federal trial, but the conviction was later dismissed when the U.S. Supreme Court found prosecutors had overreached in using the “honest services” law to pursue cases involving undisclosed payments.
Black was later convicted of unrelated state and federal crimes of bribery, obstruction of justice and illegal campaign contributions. He was released from prison in 2010.
None of the evidence put forth in the lottery scandal linked any wrongdoing to Gates, who had begun working for the company in 2005 and left the following year. As senior vice president, he had the awkward role of explaining what higher-ups in the company knew about Middleton’s dealings with Geddings and Norris.
He issued a nine-paragraph statement defending the company by saying Norris “was not expected to lobby” for the company and that it had opposed Geddings’ seeking a seat on the lottery commission.
When Scientific Games lost the lottery to another bidder, GTECH, amid all the controversy, Gates tried to put it in the best possible light. The company had surprised some by only bidding on the contract for instant ticket games, forgoing the contract for the daily pick games.
“I just say that we wish North Carolina all the best as the state moves forward,” Gates said.
According to The Washington Post, Gates had a long working relationship with Paul Manafort, a political consultant and a former campaign manager for Trump’s campaign who has also been charged in the Russia probe. Gates started working for Manafort’s firm after graduating from college in the 1990s and then reunited with Manafort after leaving Scientific Games.
The Russia probe being led by special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating the country’s efforts to influence the presidential election. The charges against Gates and Manafort have to do with their financial dealings in Ukraine. Manafort has pleaded not guilty.
Gates could not be reached through a publicity firm that has been working on his behalf. A Scientific Games spokeswoman also could not be reached.