Politics & Government

Prosecutors say businessman’s $2 million offer to state official ‘constitutes a bribe’

Federal prosecutors have asked a court to reject businessman Greg Lindberg’s request to dismiss charges that he tried to bribe the state insurance commissioner with $2 million in campaign contributions.

Lindberg and three others — including former North Carolina Republican Chairman Robin Hayes — were indicted last spring on charges of conspiracy and bribery for their alleged attempts to influence state Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey, a Republican.

The four are accused of trying to bribe Causey with $2 million in campaign contributions to get him to take actions favorable to one of Lindberg’s companies, including the removal of an insurance department employee responsible for regulating that firm.

In asking for the charges to be dropped, Lindberg’s attorneys said he “was exercising his right to engage in political speech, to advocate for a robust yet fair regulatory environment for his company.”

U.S. Attorney Andrew Murray rejected that argument.

“When a campaign contribution is conditioned on specific official action it constitutes a bribe and is not protected by the First Amendment,” Murray wrote in the document filed Wednesday. He added that Lindberg didn’t dispute charges that he “explicitly requested the removal and replacement of the senior deputy commissioner assigned to regulate his companies in exchange for $2 million in campaign contributions. This is sufficient to state a violation of federal bribery law. . .“

Lindberg owns Durham-based Eli Global LLC, an investment company, as well as Global Bankers Insurance Group, a managing company for several insurance and reinsurance companies. This month it was announced that Global Growth LLC is the new parent company of Lindberg’s holdings, which he continues to own.

Lindberg also is a major political contributor.

Records show that he’s given $5.5 million to candidates, political parties and PACS since 2016. He’s given to both parties, though most contributions have gone to Republicans and their allies.

In seeking to dismiss the charges, Lindberg’s attorneys claimed the defendants offered Causey millions of dollars in campaign contributions in exchange for specific “official action” favorable to Lindberg’s company. But they cited a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned the bribery conviction of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and established higher standards for proving corruption.

Lindberg’s lawyers said the definition of “official acts” was too broad.

In their response, prosecutors argued that Lindberg and his attorneys misinterpreted the Supreme Court decision.

“(A)s McDonnell and the courts that have subsequently interpreted that decision have made clear, the removal of the disfavored regulator — and her replacement by a regulator of the defendant’s choosing — were themselves ‘official acts,’” prosecutors wrote. “This Court should reject the defendant’s novel and erroneous interpretation of McDonnell.”

Lindberg’s attorneys could not be reached Thursday.

A trial is scheduled for Nov. 19.

Jim Morrill, who grew up near Chicago, covers state and local politics. He’s worked at the Observer since 1981 and taught courses on North Carolina politics at UNC Charlotte and Davidson College. To subscribe to The Observer, go to: www.charlotteobserver.com/jim.