The former head of North Carolina’s Republican Party formally pleaded guilty in federal court Wednesday for his role in one of the state’s biggest political corruption scandals.
Former GOP Chairman Robin Hayes agreed to plead guilty to lying to federal investigators. He faces up to six months in prison though prosecutors are likely to ask for less time. No sentencing date has been set.
Hayes, 74, is a Concord native who served in Congress for a decade. The former lawmaker also once ran for governor.
“Are you in fact guilty of the one count in the indictment?” Magistrate Judge David Cayer asked in court.
“Yes sir,” said Hayes who, in a hearing that lasted just 15 minutes, gave no statement or expressed no visible emotion.
“Today was a big step forward,” his attorney, Kearns Davis, said in a statement. “Robin looks forward to completing this process and moving ahead.”
Hayes was one of four men indicted last March on multiple charges of conspiracy and bribery. Also indicted were Durham businessman Greg Lindberg and two associates, John Gray and John Palermo. All four pleaded not guilty at the time.
A trial for the three is scheduled for Nov. 18. But attorneys for Gray and Palermofiled a motion Tuesday to delay a trial until February, citing the complexity of a case that already has produced over 2 million pages of documents and over 150 video and audio recordings.
“The case is so unusual and complex that it is unreasonable to expect adequate preparation for pretrial proceedings or a trial itself within the usual time limits,” they wrote.
In the indictment, prosecutors described a scheme to funnel $2 million to Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey’s re-election campaign to persuade him to dump a senior deputy commissioner who oversaw regulation of one of Lindberg’s companies. Some of the money was to go through the state Republican Party. The indictment paints Hayes as a willing participant in the scheme.
“Whatever you all want to do, we’ll do,” Hayes tells Gray, Lindberg and Causey, according to the indictment.
Hayes’ plea agreement calls for him to cooperate with prosecutors and possibly testify against his co-defendants.
“It’s a real astute, savvy move on his part. They had him on tape,” said Charlotte attorney Chris Swecker, a former assistant FBI director. “He might be able to walk away without jail time on this one.”
Focus now on Lindberg
Attention will now turn to the remaining defendants, particularly Lindberg. Prosecutors say the wealthy businessman was at the center of the conspiracy.
Lindberg has become one of the state’s biggest campaign contributors. Records show that since 2016, he’s given candidates, parties and PACS at least $6.6 million.
He donated to both parties — including then-Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin, who now chairs the state Democratic Party. But most of his money has gone to Republicans.
A Yale-educated entrepreneur, Lindberg owns Eli Global, a private-equity firm that owns more than 70 companies in fields including health care, technology, insurance and financial services. Its investments globally have generated over $1.4 billion in revenue, according to its web site.
In February Lindberg was the subject of a Wall Street Journal investigation.
It described a spending spree where he bought scores of companies, an estate in the Florida Keys, a lakeside property in Idaho, a Raleigh mansion, a Gulfstream jet and a 214-foot yacht with nine staterooms. It coincided with his emergence as a major campaign donor.
According to the Journal, after Lindberg began buying insurance companies in 2014, he began diverting at least $2 billion from those companies into his other properties. While some states limit such investments to 10% of an insurance company’s assets, Lindberg took more than 50% from one of his insurance companies, the Journal reported.
Causey, a Republican elected in 2016, has said his involvement with Lindberg began in 2017 when the insurance department was conducting a routine financial exam of one of Lindberg’s companies.
Causey has told the Observer that department officials began to question the practices and financial health of the companies.
In June, that led the Insurance Department to take over a group of Lindberg’s insurance companies. And in July, the General Assembly unanimously passed a bill that prevents insurers from transferring more than 10% of their assets.