A new North Carolina law prohibits felons – specifically those who commit felonies while holding public office – from drawing retirement from the state’s various public retirement pools.
State Sen. Thom Goolsby, R-New Hanover, said the bill’s passage was in response to North Carolina’s history of political corruption.
Lawmakers unanimously approved the bill in the North Carolina General Assembly this session, and N.C. Gov. Bev Perdue signed the bill into law in July. The law takes effect Dec. 1, 2012.
It prohibits anyone convicted of a felony from collecting retirement from the teachers’ and state retirement system, the local government employees’ retirement system, the judicial and legislative retirement system, the optional program for UNC system employees, state-funded community college retirement plans, the state law enforcement retirement plan and the local law enforcement retirement plan.
Goolsby said he was pleased to be a part of what he considered cleaning up political corruption in North Carolina.
Goolsby, an attorney in Wilmington, said the new law does two things – it sends a message that political corruption won’t be tolerated, and provides tougher punishment.
“I think it’s both, and I think both are equally important,” he said.
Last month’s indictment of former District Attorney Rex Gore, who served as lead prosecutor for Brunswick, Columbus and Bladen counties for 20 years, was the most recent example of elected officials being accused of abusing their posts.
Gore, who was indicted for conspiracy to obtain property by false pretenses, maintains his innocence. Gore said he acted within the law and his discretion as district attorney when crafting a compensation plan for an assistant district attorney, which was at the center of the indictment.
Public records show corruption investigations in southeastern North Carolina stem back to 1979, and continue even today. Several key players involved three decades ago are still under investigation in some capacity.
Former state Sen. R.C. Soles Jr., who was the state’s longest serving legislator when he retired from office in 2010, is still the subject of at least one investigation by North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper’s office, which includes the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation.
Brunswick County residents saw two of their sheriffs convicted and imprisoned for felonies—Herman Strong in 1983 and Ronald Hewett in 2008.
Strong was convicted for his role in a narcotics enterprise valued at $180 million. Hewett pleaded guilty to felony obstruction of justice and was sentenced to 16 months in prison. U.S. District Judge Earl Britt sentenced both Strong and Hewett to prison.
“This is a tragic day in Brunswick County; another tragic day for North Carolina. We have seen far too many public officials convicted either by their own plea or by trial of abusing the public trust,” Britt said as he sentenced Hewett.
Before he was attorney general and eventually governor, Mike Easley was the district attorney for the 13th District, which includes Brunswick, Columbus and Bladen counties.
In November 2010, Easley was convicted of knowingly filing a false campaign report. As part of a plea agreement, Easley avoided prison.
In March 2008, former state Rep. Thomas Wright, a Democrat who represented New Hanover and Pender counties, was the first sitting member to be expelled from the North Carolina House of Representatives in more than 100 years.
Wright, 57, is currently serving a seven-plus year term in prison for obtaining property by false pretenses and obstruction of justice.