Politics & Government

Federal grand jury investigating a Durham businessman who’s the NCGOP’s biggest donor

North Carolina’s biggest Republican political donor is facing a federal criminal investigation related to his businesses.

Greg Lindberg has given millions of dollars to GOP groups in the past few years, largely in support of Lt. Gov. Dan Forest who is widely expected to run for governor in 2020. According to past News & Observer reporting, Lindberg was the single largest donor in 2017 to the N.C. Republican Party, as well as to two outside groups supporting Forest. He has also given money to the state Democratic Party.

Last month, the U.S. attorney for Western North Carolina subpoenaed records from the N.C. Department of Insurance — seeking anything the department has that’s related to Lindberg or his numerous companies. WRAL-TV first reported the news Tuesday night.

Through his main business, Durham-based Eli Global and other holdings, Lindberg controls a number of companies in the insurance, health care and service industries.

It’s unclear exactly what federal prosecutors are looking into, since grand jury proceedings are cloaked in secrecy, although one letter included in the subpoena says the prosecutors suspect felonies have been committed. Another document lists several broad categories of law that might or might not apply.

“This subpoena relates to an investigation of drug offenses, crimes against financial institutions, or money laundering crimes,” the subpoena to the Department of Insurance states.

The subpoena was signed by U.S. Attorney R. Andrew Murray, an appointee of Republican President Donald Trump who oversees federal trials in Charlotte and the rest of Western North Carolina. He was previously the elected district attorney for Mecklenburg County.

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His office is seeking all documents the department has regarding Lindberg, Eli Global or other companies he controls — including financial reports, contracts, tax filings, internal documents like PowerPoint presentations, and any emails or notes from discussions department officials have had related to Lindberg and his companies — dating back to 2014.

Barry Smith, a spokesman for the Department of Insurance, said neither the department nor N.C. Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey personally are targets of the investigation, and they are cooperating with the subpoena request.

“The investigation is pertaining to Eli Global, LLC in Durham, N.C.,” Smith said in an email. “Commissioner Causey is not a target of this investigation. However, because this is an ongoing investigation, Commissioner Causey cannot offer any further comment at this time.”

Lindberg does not typically grant interviews, although a Cary-based media consultant for Lindberg, Chuck Norman, said Wednesday he would forward an interview request along to Lindberg. Also on Wednesday, a Texas-based attorney for Lindberg didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

On his personal website, Lindberg describes himself as “a bootstrap entrepreneur” who founded Eli Global while an undergraduate student at Yale University, eventually building it into a large business empire that oversees “132 companies with 9,500 employees, $3 billion in revenue, and $20 billion in proforma assets including pending acquisitions.”

He graduated from Yale in 1993 and later moved to North Carolina. He owns one home on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill and also has another home near Jordan Lake, according to Orange County real estate records. Lindberg also appears to have been the buyer of a North Raleigh mansion that sold for $5.5 million in August — the most expensive home sale ever in this area — according to past N&O reporting.

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Although Lindberg has only voted once in North Carolina, in the 2016 general election, he has become more involved on the financial side of politics than almost anyone else in the past couple years.

There’s no indication so far the investigation is connected to Lindberg’s political activities, but investigators have contacted both the Democrats and Republicans, according to party officials. It was not immediately clear if both had received subpoenas.

In 2017, Lindberg became the biggest donor to the N.C. GOP, giving $3 million to the party and pro-Forest groups.

“We’ve had some requests for information,” said N.C. GOP Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse in an interview Wednesday, declining to give more specifics about those requests.

“Obviously we’ll cooperate,” he said, adding that “there has been absolutely no allegation of any type of wrongdoing by the North Carolina Republican Party.”

Lindberg was also one of the biggest donors to the N.C. Democratic Party in at least the first few months of 2018. He gave $250,000 to the Democratic Party in the first quarter of the year, according to an N&O report this summer.

Campaign finance records also show that Lindberg and one of his businesses gave more than half a million dollars in 2016 and 2017 to an outside group that had been formed to back Wayne Goodwin, who is now the leader of the N.C. Democratic Party and in 2016 was running for re-election as the insurance commissioner.

That PAC shut down earlier this year and transferred almost all of the $110,000 it had left over to another PAC, which is registered at the same address as Eli Global and which has also since received donations only from Lindberg, according to federal campaign finance reports. It’s unclear who that new PAC, the American Growth and Opportunity Committee, intends to support. Its only spending as of July has been to hire lawyers.

Robert Howard, a spokesman for the Democratic Party, said Wednesday that Goodwin was traveling out of the state and unavailable to conduct an interview. “I can confirm that federal investigators have contacted (the state Democratic Party) concerning Mr. Lindberg,” Howard wrote in an email Wednesday.

“The $250,000 donation from this spring went to the NCDP Building Fund as part of our 2018 Capital Campaign, which solicited donors throughout North Carolina to assist with the first major repairs to NCDP’s headquarters since the early 2000s.”

Lindberg’s giving hasn’t been entirely political. He also pledged earlier this year to spend $1 million over the next five years funding scholarships at local HBCUs, according to an N&O report in July.

Doran: 919-836-2858; Twitter: @will_doran