Under the Dome

Sen. Rucho calls prison official’s email to FBI ‘ruthless’, ‘dirty politics”

Senator Bob Rucho of Mecklenburg County.
Senator Bob Rucho of Mecklenburg County. 2014 News & Observer File photo

A high-ranking state senator on Monday lashed out at a former state public safety official who told the FBI that the senator had taken an interest in prison maintenance contracts under scrutiny.

Sen. Bob Rucho, a Republican from Mecklenburg County, said he has not been involved in the contracts held by Charlotte developer Graeme Keith Sr. Rucho portrays an email written by the official as “dirty politics.” The email was written by Lorrie Dollar, who was the former chief operating officer in the Department of Public Safety and the wife of Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Cary Republican who is one of the chief budget-writers in the legislature.

“I know Rep. Nelson Dollar and I are frequently at odds, but for him and his wife to manufacture such an outrageous accusation — based on zero facts — is ruthless, and pitching it to the FBI in a calculated attempt to tear me down is dirty politics and character assassination at its worst.”

The controversy centers on Keith’s attempt to extend and expand his contracts to provide prison maintenance. The public safety department opposed it, and in a May 2014 report found no significant savings to privatize.

At a meeting in Charlotte in October 2014, Keith reportedly said he expected something in return for his years of campaign contributions. Keith has said that is a misrepresentation. Gov. Pat McCrory, who was in the room, said he didn’t hear Keith say it.

A provision in the state budget this year that would have prohibited the contracts was removed after Keith told Senate Leader Phil Berger that he was saving the state money, and suggested Berger talk to the state budget director. The budget director told Berger there were problems with the department’s analysis and the administration preferred it be deleted to provide more flexibility.

Lorrie Dollar’s email surfaced over the weekend on the conservative political website Jones & Blount. She wrote it to an FBI agent in August a day after she and the agent discussed the prison contracts issue. The FBI has been looking into the contracts since spring.

The email says one of Rucho’s aides had contacted the department and said “they thought our study was ‘flawed.’” She wrote that made her suspect that someone from The Keith Corporation had contacted Rucho’s office, and she thought the FBI “may want to follow up on this.”

Rucho told Dome on Monday he had no involvement. The aide Lorrie Dollar mentioned doesn’t work only for Rucho, Berger’s office said Monday. The aide, in an email written the day before inquiring about the department’s position on the budget provision, wrote that he was inquiring on behalf of Berger.

"I am sorry Senator Rucho feels this way," Nelson Dollar said. "I have always had the highest regard for him."

Lorrie Dollar, a longtime employee of several state agencies, lost her job in the Department of Public Safety in a recent reorganization, and now works for the Administrative Office of the Courts.