Wallace Bradsher questions Cindy Blitzer about her work for his office
Wallace Bradsher has been a defense attorney and a district attorney in Person and Caswell counties.
Now the former prosecutor is a defendant representing himself in a criminal trial that began this week in Wake County Superior Court.
Bradsher, a father of seven, faces allegations of creating a scheme that allowed him and another former district attorney to hire each other's wives. The former Rockingham County district attorney's wife was taking nursing school classes when she was supposed to be on the clock for Bradsher.
The allegations led to the resignations of both men from their elected offices and put the former prosecutors face-to-face in a courtroom battling over criminal charges.
On his way to trial, Bradsher not only has fought to have the charges dismissed, he has tried to have the judge removed from his case and sought a gag order against prosecutors.
He sought to disqualify Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman from the case.
Freeman stepped aside from the prosecution late last month.
“I think it is important to note that my recusal is not an impugnment of the assistants in my office,” Freeman said. “This is something I’m voluntarily doing in an effort to maintain fairness in this case.”
Craig Blitzer, the former Rockingham County district attorney accused of playing a role in the scheme, entered a guilty plea last summer as part of an arrangement with Wake County prosecutors.
This week, Blitzer spent several days on the witness stand laying out crucial details of a plan hatched in 2015 that allowed his wife, Cindy Blitzer, to be on the payroll in Bradsher’s office and collect a $48,000 salary for work she did not do.
Blitzer has acknowledged failing to discharge the duties of his office and as part of an agreement with prosecutors could see the sentence for that plea become a prayer for judgment — meaning that if he stays out of trouble for a certain period of time, the guilty plea is not recorded.
Bradsher was offered a plea arrangement with prosecutors last year, too, according to court proceedings, but instead he fired the attorney who had been representing him and took over his own defense.
Earlier this week, Bradsher told jurors in his opening statement that the narrative put forth by prosecutors left out much and twisted his reasons for hiring his wife to work in his office for years until court administrators informed him that such an arrangement violated state ethics laws.
No secret his wife worked for him
Bradsher defended the hiring of his wife, Pamela Bradsher, and explained a large pay increase he had given her after another employee in his office suffered health issues.
Bradsher said it was no secret his wife worked for him, that she helped him pick his juries and worked alongside him in the courtroom for numerous trials.
"Judge after judge after judge rotated through that district … every six months … every judge that came in was introduced to Pam as my wife," Bradsher said.
"To imply that we thought we were doing something," Bradsher said, was not the case.
Bradsher proceeded to point a finger at Blitzer, accusing him of mismanaging time sheets and allowing workers in his office to do schoolwork on state computers while on the job.
Bradsher also accused the SBI investigators assigned to his case of omitting details in their reports that would have made the narrative against him far less sinister.
"If all the forecast of that evidence was true, I wouldn't be asking you to sit and listen to the real facts of this case." Bradsher told jurors in his opening statement.
About public funds, public figures
But Patrick Latour, the assistant Wake County district attorney who took over prosecution of the Bradsher case after Freeman and the special prosecutor stepped aside, told jurors the evidence would show something different.
"This case is about public funds," Latour said. "This case is about public trust. This case is about public figures and the things they did with those two things."
Blitzer was on the witness stand for several days, often facing tense cross-examination from Bradsher.
Blitzer, a Republican, was elected Rockingham County district attorney in November 2014 and served in the office from Jan. 1, 2015, until his resignation in March 2017.
Blitzer was worried his family’s finances would be strained by his shift from private practice to the public office and the lower salary that came with it.
Bradsher, also a Republican, had his wife working in his office, so Blitzer inquired about how he had arranged for that.
“I never thought with your wife working for you so openly, that it was illegal,” Blitzer testified this week.
When Blitzer tried to do the same, state court officials told the new district attorney that he could not hire his wife.
While state ethics rules allow legislators to hire their spouses, district attorneys are prohibited from employing family members.
That prompted a meeting between Bradsher and Blitzer at Elizabeth’s Pizza in Wentworth.
There, Blitzer said, Bradsher suggested they hire each other’s wives.
Hatching the swap
The SBI probe found that Pam Bradsher did the work she was paid to do by Blitzer. But investigators found that Cindy Blitzer was taking nursing classes at a school in High Point when Bradsher reported that she was on the clock.
Prosecutors have said Blitzer raised questions about what kind of work his wife should be doing while on a trip to a district attorneys' conference at the Outer Banks several years ago.
Blitzer told investigators that Bradsher told him not to worry about it.
The scheme came to the attention of state investigators in July 2016 after Superior Court Judge Joe Crosswhite ordered the investigation at the recommendation of the state Administrative Office of the Courts.
Blitzer said that when he learned his wife was under investigation, he never thought they had done anything wrong.
Blitzer said in court this week that Bradsher had led him to believe that district attorneys could decide how their employees spent their work hours and allow them to take classes while collecting their salaries.
"It was ridiculous, yes," Blitzer said.
Cindy Blitzer was initially working on a child homicide case for Bradsher, but he eventually took all of the files in the case back to his office in Roxboro.
Craig Blitzer told Bradsher his wife had nothing to do.
”His response was to just have her concentrate on school, and he'd get back to her," Blitzer said.
But no more work assignments came from Bradsher.
In response to questions from Latour this week about how Cindy Blitzer could have worked for Bradsher and gone to school, the former Rockingham district attorney said she could have gotten the work done at nights and on weekends.
“There was time to do it,” Blitzer said. “There was nothing to do.”
Blitzer and his wife have paid back the state for the checks his wife received while taking the nursing classes in High Point.
'You wanted us to lie'
This week, he recounted a phone conversation with Bradsher after state investigators began looking into his wife’s job status.
Cindy Blitzer also was on the line and willing to resign.
Bradsher insisted he had "unfettered discretion" over how employees in his office used their time.
“This is not right; should she resign?” Blitzer recalled telling Bradsher during that phone conversation. ”Mr. Bradsher's telling her no, not [to] resign, this is the story we're going to go with. I'm looking at Cindy and she's looking at me, and we're like, we're not going with that story because that story doesn't exist."
Bradsher asked Blitzer whether he recalled a point in the conversation where he asked Cindy Blitzer about continuing to work on special projects.
“I recall you saying on the phone that that's what we were going to say,” Blitzer told Bradsher this week. “There were no special projects.”
“So, if there were no special projects, why would you not say, 'Wallace, what are you talking about?’” Bradsher asked.
“Because you wanted us to lie, and it was time to end the conversation," Blitzer replied.
The conversation about what happened was expected to continue in a Wake County courtroom throughout the week.
Cindy Blitzer was to testify about her recollections in a trial that Bradsher has said could last for several weeks.