An influential North Carolina Republican lawmaker says a man now facing federal charges in an alleged bribery scheme loaned him $500,000 last year, but never asked for anything from the General Assembly in return.
Citing documents and an interview, WRAL-TV reported on Wednesday that John Gray loaned House Rules Committee Chairman David Lewis the money in June 2018. Lewis told the station his Harnett County farm had financial troubles, and Gray was a fellow farmer and friend.
"I just know (Gray) as a good guy," Lewis said.
Gray and three others were indicted in the spring, accused of trying to bribe state Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey. One of the four — former state GOP Chairman Robin Hayes — entered a plea agreement last week. Gray and the two others, including insurance magnate and prolific political donor Greg Lindberg, have pleaded not guilty.
Lewis, who hadn't discussed the loan publicly until now, said he didn't know about Gray's future legal troubles when he got the money. The indictments were unsealed in April 2019.
The loan was going to be repaid within four months, but Lewis still owes Gray. Lewis blames Hurricane Florence, which he said caused "catastrophic damage" at his farm when it hit the state in September 2018. Gray agreed to extend the loan, according to Lewis, who hopes to repay it after he sells this year's soybean crop.
Deeds of trust show Lewis and his wife, along with their farm and property company, put up land in four North Carolina counties as collateral for the loan. Lewis said Gray set the interest rate high enough, at 12%, so nobody "could question that it was a sweetheart deal."
Gray, who is described in the federal indictment as a Lindberg consultant, has been a campaign donor to Lewis and other North Carolina political groups.
Gray's attorneys provided a short statement to WRAL: "Mr. Gray believes he has not done anything improper and he has not violated any laws."
Lewis said Monday that he has not heard from federal investigators about the loan.
Lewis also took out two other loans totaling $800,000 over the last year and a half, according to public records. One $100,000 loan from a farming company owned by Republican Sen. Brent Jackson of Sampson County has been repaid, Lewis and Jackson said.
Lewis says he turned to others for loans when a bank he used to borrow money from to get from crop to crop stopped lending to farmers.
The loan from Gray is a "business loan that's secured," he said. "It's above market-rate interest ... and it's indicative of how tight liquidity is for people who are still trying to farm."