Under the Dome

NC Sen. Fletcher Hartsell’s legal defense funded by pharmaceutical executive

Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, left, reads his indictment with attorney Wade Smith as they wait to appear before a magistrate at the Wake County Detention Center on Tuesday, June 28, 2016 in Raleigh, N.C.
Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, left, reads his indictment with attorney Wade Smith as they wait to appear before a magistrate at the Wake County Detention Center on Tuesday, June 28, 2016 in Raleigh, N.C. rwillett@newsobserver.com

As state Sen. Fletcher Hartsell faces charges of federal and state campaign finance law violations and racks up hefty legal bills, he’s getting help from a well-known figure in the pharmaceutical industry.

Fred Eshelman of Wilmington donated $125,000 to Hartsell’s legal defense fund in August, according to campaign finance records filed this month. Eshelman had previously given $35,000 to the fund. His latest donation covers much of the $127,629 the fund spent on attorney fees during the third quarter of 2016.

Eshelman has led a number of companies, including Pharmaceutical Product Development and Furiex Pharmaceuticals, and he serves on the board of Valeant Pharmaceuticals. The UNC School of Pharmacy bears his name thanks to a large contribution, and he’s also a frequent donor to Republican candidates.

Eshelman did not return a phone call seeking comment on his contribution to Hartsell’s legal defense fund.

The fund received small donations from Charlotte attorney Robert Burchette, Uwharrie Capital Corp. CEO Roger Dick and Wally Safrit, who serves as the city attorney for Kannapolis.

Federal charges filed in late September allege Hartsell engaged in a scheme to solicit and obtain campaign money from 2007 through 2015 that he spent on personal items and services, and concealed it by filing false campaign finance reports. The Concord Republican allegedly spent campaign money on a trip to Charleston, haircuts, tickets to a musical, car repairs, lawn care and club memberships.

In state court, he is accused of certifying three campaign finance documents as correct while knowing they were not. The state charges are low-level felonies, but each of the federal charges carries a maximum sentence of 20 years and a $500,000 fine.

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