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Wake DA looks at House speaker’s roles as private attorney, public legislator

October 8th, 2018

— The Wake County District Attorney’s Office is probing some of House Speaker Tim Moore’s legal dealings in what the chief prosecutor stressed Monday is “not at the level of a criminal investigation.”

District Attorney Lorrin Freeman has talked with the State Bureau of Investigation about the inquiry, though, which she said is not unusual “as part of a preliminary review.” Freeman said she hasn’t formally asked the SBI to get involved and that her office is reviewing allegations against the speaker to determine what next steps, if any, are appropriate.

“All we’re doing at this point is, we’ve received some allegations,” Freeman said. We’re reviewing them, but there is no criminal investigation at this point.”

Moore, R-Cleveland, said in a statement Monday that he welcomes an inquiry and that he holds himself to “the highest standards of integrity that the people of North Carolina deserve from elected leaders.”

The review was sparked by a pair of relationships: Moore’s legal work for an investor whose Durham area project he helped save with key legislation, and work he did in 2012 for a bail bonds group that later won, through legislation, the exclusive right to provide bondsman certification training in North Carolina.

Moore’s work for entrepreneur Neal Hunter was laid out in a pair of News Observer stories in the past several weeks. As House Rules Committee chairman in 2013, Moore sponsored legislation that forced Durham to extend city water and sewer lines to a large development off N.C. Highway 751 that Hunter was involved with, allowing the project to move forward, the newspaper reported.

Two years later, Hunter hired Moore as an attorney, the newspaper reported. Two years after that, one of Hunter’s companies, KNOW Bio, gave Moore a contract that eventually paid him $40,000 for four months of work and was canceled when a new chief executive came on board, the newspaper said.

Separately, Moore represented a group of bail agents in early 2012, writing at least one letter to the state insurance commissioner on their behalf. Legislation passed later that year giving the North Carolina Bail Agents Association the sole right to conduct required training classes for bail bondsmen in the state. A company that would have been put out of business by the legislation sued, and the law was thrown out.

Moore recused himself from voting on that legislation. He told The News Observer last week he was paid $10,000 by the Bail Agents Association and that he put in 28 to 30 hours of work, an hourly rate above $300.

When WRAL News asked Moore about this arrangement months ago it was part of the reporting on a broader story about the bail industry in North Carolina and Moore’s college roommate, who had been accused of lobbying the state legislature without filing the proper paperwork, then covering it up when investigators came calling.

Moore told WRAL News at the time that he explains to clients the separation between his legal practice and his job as a legislator. He said he didn’t remember how much he was paid, and spokesman Joseph Kyzer said Moore has since reviewed his records to confirm the $10,000 figure.

State regulations don’t require elected officials to disclose private legal clients, in part to protect attorney-client privilege. Many legislators are professional attorneys, and the rules say they’re supposed to recuse themselves from issues when needed.

A routine statement of economic interest form required of public officials asks only for categories of legal representation that earn attorneys more than $10,000 in legal fees. In recent years, Moore has checked the administrative, decedent’s estates, local government, tort litigation, corporate and criminal categories.

In past years, he’s also checked the “real property” and “other” categories. Few of Moore’s clients are known beyond the public ones. He’s Cleveland County’s attorney and also represents the Cleveland County Water District.

Freeman’s office is reviewing information The News Observer published, as well as statements from a letter her office received last month purporting to be from a Republican member of the House. That letter makes a number of allegations and goes into depth about the speaker’s work for the Bail Agents Association in 2011 and 2012.

The same letter, or one very similar, was also sent in May to Josh Lawson, general counsel for the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement, and copied to at least three news organizations, including WRAL News. The writer stated that he or she was writing anonymously, but “if you figure out who I am … I will talk with your or the press, ON THE RECORD.”

Only a handful of legislators fit the letter’s descriptions, and WRAL News approached all of them shortly after the letter was received. None claimed authorship.

Lawson said Monday that he could only confirm he received the letter.

Moore said in his statement that he welcomes further inquiries into the letter because “they will expose their fabricated narrative as a baseless election season smear campaign.”

“My work as a private attorney and businessman has never conflicted with my public service in the General Assembly,” he said in the statement. “I recuse myself from voting on legislation when appropriate.”

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