North Carolina Republican Party chairman charged in bribery case

WASHINGTON, April 2 (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department said on Tuesday it had charged the chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party, Robert "Robin" Hayes, and a major political donor in a corruption scheme that targeted a state official.

According to an indictment unsealed on Tuesday, Hayes worked with business executive Greg Lindberg to bribe state insurance commissioner Mike Causey. Causey reported the effort to law enforcement officials and cooperated in the investigation, authorities say.

The two men, along with insurance executives John Gray, 68, and John Palermo, 63, were charged with bribery and conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud. Hayes is also charged with lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

All four men pleaded not guilty.

Lawyers for Hayes and Lindberg said their clients looked forward to clearing their names in court. Lawyers for Gray and Palermo did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

According to the indictment, the four men promised to spend millions of dollars on Causey's re-election if he would remove an insurance regulator that oversaw companies under Lindberg's control.

They said they would set up independent campaign committees that would spend $1.5 million on Causey's re-election bid and funnel another $250,000 through the state Republican party.

Hayes encouraged the others to transfer the money in smaller amounts to avoid detection, the indictment said. "My concern, any large amount like that's gonna draw attention," he said, according to the charges.

Robin Hayes throughout his political career
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Robin Hayes throughout his political career
UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 27: Robin Hayes, R-N.C., during the Agriculture Committee Meeting on crop insurance. (Photo By Douglas Graham/Roll Call/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 16: From left, Dr. Tom Blackwell, from Carolinas HealthCare System, Rep. Robin Hayes, R-N.C., Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., Rep. Sue Myrick, R-N.C., and Rick Cantwell form Myrick's Homeland Security Taskforce, cut the ribbon on Charlotte, North Carolina's new Mobile Emergency Department. The facility is a mobile hospital with a staff of physicians, nurses, and paramedics designed to serve events with many people. (Photo By Tom Williams/Roll Call/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 12: Robin Hayes, R-N.C., during the press conference to announce support by a new coalition of businesses and organizations for the proposed Broadband Internet Access Act of 2000. (Photo By Douglas Graham/Roll Call/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 01: Mark Kirk, R-Ill., and Robin Hayes, R-N.C., walk to the buses for the trip down to Williamsburg, Virginia for the House GOP retreat. (Photo By Douglas Graham/Roll Call/Getty Images)
Rep. Robin Hayes, R-N.C., incumbent in the 8th Congressional District, talks with the media at the Speedway Club in Concord, N.C., Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2006. Hayes is running against Democratic challenger Larry Kissell. (AP Photo/Rick Havner)
** FILE ** In this Nov. 8, 2006 photo, Rep. Robin Hayes, R-N.C., faces supporters in Concord, N.C. Over the last decade, close Election Day victories have become standard for Hayes, who squeaked into his fifth term with a margin of two-tenths of one percent of the vote in 2006. But the Concord Republican has managed to keep control of the Democrat-leaning district by emphasizing his Christian values and a traditional conservative platform of lower taxes and strong families. (AP Photo/Rick Havner, File)
FILE - In this June 3, 2017 file photo North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes speaks during the North Carolina Republican Party State Convention at the Wilmington Convention Center in Wilmington, N.C. Hayes won't seek re-election to the post after all, the former congressman announced Monday, April 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Mike Spencer, File)
FILE - In this June 2, 2017, file photo, North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes addresses delegates on the first day of the North Carolina Republican Party State Convention at the Wilmington Convention Center in Wilmington, N.C. Hayes and investment firm founder Greg Lindberg are among four people charged with bribery and wire fraud charges in federal indictments unsealed Tuesday, April 2, 2019. They're accused of trying to sway an insurance regulator's decisions in favor of the donor's insurance companies. (AP Photo/Mike Spencer, File)

Lindberg is the founder and chairman of investment company Eli Global and the owner of Global Bankers Insurance Group, which controls several insurance companies. Neither company was charged, and Global Bankers said it was cooperating with the investigation.

Lindberg is the state's biggest political donor in recent years, with total contributions of more than $5 million, mostly to Republicans, according to news site WRAL.

Hayes served in the U.S. Congress from 1999 to 2009. He led the state party between 2011 and 2013, when it won a dominant majority in the state legislature, and again since 2016. He announced yesterday that he would step down from the position.

Lindberg and Gray also enlisted another public official, who made several calls to Causey on their behalf after they contributed $150,000 to a political committee supporting his candidacy, according to the indictment.

That official, identified by Politico as U.S. Republican Representative Mark Walker, was not charged. A spokesman for Walker said he had committed no wrongdoing and had assisted the investigation.

The North Carolina Republican Party said it has been cooperating with the probe for several months.

The party has suffered a series of setbacks after several years in which it controlled the state government, pushing through spending cuts, voting restrictions, and other conservative policies.

An absentee ballot fraud scheme run by a party operative has forced the rerun of a 2018 U.S. congressional election, and a federal court ruled last year that state Republicans illegally drew U.S. congressional districts to benefit their party.

Democrat Roy Cooper was elected as governor in 2016, breaking the Republican grip on state politics, and Democrats made significant gains in state assembly elections last year.

(Reporting by Andy Sullivan Additional reporting by Andrew Hay Editing by David Gregorio and James Dalgleish)

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