A handful of young men chase state Sen. R.C. Soles Jr. all over town.
If he's eating breakfast downtown at Mama's Restaurant, the teens and 20-somethings – former clients of the lawyer and state senator – will often wait on the sidewalk for him to exit.
They've camped out by his car to wait for him to leave church on Sunday mornings, and they often park in the cemetery at the end of his road so they can see when he heads home.
If he ignores them, the young men yell and cause a scene. When he leaves, they follow him like he's leading a parade.
Soles has acknowledged giving some of the men thousands of dollars. Many people around town assume they are hounding him for more, flocking to the 74-year-old, never-married lawmaker like sea gulls to bread.
Democrat Soles, a member of the General Assembly since before any of these former clients were born, built his reputation in Raleigh as an effective politician who avoids the spotlight.
The longest-serving lawmaker in the state, he's known for supporting legislation that helps his home district, a poor pocket of southeastern North Carolina.
“He doesn't play to the public. But he does play to the people in his home county, and he's in with the inner circle – you know, the power circle – in the legislature,” said Zeb Alley, a longtime lobbyist and former state senator who has known Soles since 1971.
But that reputation as a legislative powerhouse has been overshadowed recently by Soles' relationship with his former clients.
Last Sunday, authorities say, Soles shot one of two young men who were trying to kick in the door of his home. Kyle Blackburn and B.J. Wright, both former clients who have served jail time, were allegedly trespassing at Soles' estate when he shot Blackburn in the leg.
The shooting is the latest in a string of strange occurrences involving Soles and his former clients. A stack of police reports shows that in the past two years, young men have repeatedly trespassed at Soles' home and offices.
Blackburn was accused last year of trying to break into the senator's house.
On other occasions, Soles has used pepper spray and a shoe to fend off young men.
In a television interview taped last year but aired this month, Stacy Scott accused Soles of molesting him when he was 15. Scott recanted the story soon after it aired, saying he was high on drugs during the interview. Soles has publicly denied a sexual relationship with any of the young men. The SBI was already investigating the allegations made by Scott when the shooting occurred.
Some people around town say Soles' generosity has him mixed up with the wrong crowd; others say Soles is just as much to blame.
Richard Wright, like Soles, is a lawyer in Tabor City said people have been talking about Soles and his relationship with his young clients for years.