Under the Dome

Former candidate investigated over lobbying for NC bail bonds companies

In this 1995 file photo, Mark Bibbs, left, talks to Joe Stallings at a UNC Board of Governors meeting.
In this 1995 file photo, Mark Bibbs, left, talks to Joe Stallings at a UNC Board of Governors meeting. News & Observer file photo

Investigators with the N.C. secretary of state's office are looking into allegations that a Raleigh attorney lobbied for several companies in the bail bonds industry without properly registering as a lobbyist.

Search warrants released last week detail an investigation into whether Mark Bibbs committed lobbying violations in 2016 on behalf of N.C. Bail Academy, Rockford-Cohen Group, All American Bail Bonds and Cannon Surety. A complaint about Bibbs' activities was filed by Robert Brawley, a former state legislator and Republican candidate for governor who is a partner in the Cannon Surety business. Brawley says Bibbs wasn't authorized to lobby for the business, but another person representing the business said he'd hired Bibbs.

Reached by the Insider last week, Bibbs referred questions to his attorney, Rusty DeMent. DeMent said he would make a statement about the case but had not done so by Friday afternoon. In emails from Bibbs included in the search warrants, he says he was unaware his 2015 lobbyist registration didn't apply to the second year of the 2015-2016 legislative session.

The search warrants say Bibbs had lobbied legislators in 2016 to oppose Senate Bill 508, which made changes to bail bonds regulations and expanded the insurance commissioner's power to discipline bail bondsmen. The bill passed the House and Senate and was signed into law by then-Gov. Pat McCrory in July 2016.

The search warrants allowed investigators to review bank account records for Bibbs and the businesses he allegedly lobbied for; the investigators have so far found checks to Bibbs from the businesses, but the checks don't include details of their purpose.

Another complaint against Bibbs was filed by Mark Cartret of Agent Associates Insurance, another business related to bail bonds. Cartret said he spoke with Bibbs about his relationship with Brawley, and Bibbs "became irate, calling Brawley senile and stating he would have Brawley locked up and reviewed for mental incapacitation if he 'f*****' with him," according to the search warrant.

Bibbs ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat for N.C. House in the Wilson area in 2012 and 2014. He has close ties to former Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin – now the chairman of the N.C. Democratic Party – according to a series of text messages obtained by WBTV in Charlotte, which published a lengthy article in August detailing the lobbying allegations against Bibbs. Goodwin is not mentioned in the search warrants, and the text messages don't reference the bail bonds legislation; but in July 2015, Bibbs asked the insurance commissioner to meet with him because "I've come into something that may be harmful to you." Through a Democratic Party spokesman, Goodwin declined to comment on his relationship with Bibbs.

Last September, the secretary of state's investigators successfully sought to have the search warrants sealed because the release of the documents could "jeopardize" the probe "and possibly result in evasive actions by the subjects of the investigation." The warrants were unsealed and released last week.