Politics & Government

House Speaker Moore cleared in inquiry into payments from Durham startup, bail group

Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman said Monday that an inquiry she requested into attorneys’ fees paid to N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore by two private clients who had matters before the legislature turned up no wrongdoing.

“Following this review, we have determined that these fees were for legal services paid to Mr. Moore in his capacity as an attorney,” Freeman said in an emailed statement. “This review found no misuse of public office for private gain or other wrongdoing as to these payments and we therefore are closing the inquiry into this matter without further action.”

The noncriminal inquiry began in October, after The News & Observer had reported Moore was paid $40,000 in legal fees in 2017 by a pharmaceutical startup in Durham co-founded by Neal Hunter. Moore has said the fees were largely for tracking and researching federal tax policy for startups.

Four years earlier, while Moore was chairman of the House Rules Committee, he had pushed legislation that required Durham city officials to extend water and sewer to a 166-acre mixed use development called 751 South near Jordan Lake. The legislation also allowed for an expansion of Colvard Farms, an adjacent, upscale residential neighborhood. Hunter was a key investor in 751 South and developed Colvard Farms.

Moore said Hunter had also hired him for legal work in 2015. But the speaker said none of his legal work for Hunter or the Durham startup KNOW Bio had anything to do with his legislative duties.

The inquiry also looked into an anonymous complaint that Moore’s legal work for the N.C. Bail Agents Association in 2012 led to his pushing for legislation behind the scenes that would help it against a competitor. The association charges fees for bail agent training. The writer of the complaint claimed to be a Republican state lawmaker, but no lawmaker has stepped forward to admit writing it.

Moore has said the letter was full of lies, apart from the $10,000 he was paid for his work. He could not be reached for immediate comment regarding Freeman’s decision.

In a telephone interview, Freeman said the inquiry involved interviewing more than a dozen witnesses and reviewing documents related to legislative activity and Moore’s legal work for KNOW Bio and the bail association.

State law does not require attorneys who are lawmakers to disclose their clients in their annual ethics statements. The lawmakers are required to recuse themselves from legislation directly involving their clients. Moore had excused himself from voting on the bail legislation, while his work on 751 South legislation took place before Hunter was a client.

Freeman said as long as the public supports lawyers serving as lawmakers there will be situations in which they work for clients who “separate and apart have other business dealings within the state.”

“What (an) inquiry is looking for is, is there any nexus between those, or any evidence that there’s a misuse of public office,” Freeman said. “And in this situation, we did not find any.”

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