A private company's longstanding attempt to build ethanol plants in Eastern North Carolina has led to a growing scandal involving allegations of political pressure, corruption, campaign finance irregularities, government waste, and abuse of power reaching to the highest levels of state government.
(6.02.09) Ethanol firm officials plead guilty
RALEIGH — Two principals of a failed ethanol production company each pleaded guilty in federal court on Monday to one count of conspiracy after a grand jury indicted them last year on charges also involving bribery, extortion, and perjury. They will return to court Aug. 31 for sentencing and could each receive up to five years in prison.
(10.08.08) Ethanol Firm Officials Indicted
RALEIGH — Two principals of a failed ethanol production company made their first appearance in federal court on Tuesday after a grand jury indicted them on charges involving bribery, extortion and perjury.
(2.09.06) Commissioner Wants Watson Gone
RALEIGH — Mort Hurst, chairman of the Martin County Board of Commissioners, says he will spearhead an effort among the 16 counties represented by the North Carolina's Northeast Partnership to remove Rick Watson as the nonprofit's president and chief executive officer.
Related Northeast Partnership Articles:
Pasquotank: Watson should resign
Today: Mitch Kokai live in The Locker Room on the State Board of Elections hearings.
Read Mitch's blog posts on the hearings from Wednesday.
Thursday's blog posts.
New Feature! Who's Who at the Board of Elections Hearings
(12.03.03) "Revolving Door" Issue Raised
RALEIGH — Allyson Duncan, a former member of the North Carolina Utilities Commission who left in 1998, a year before the end of her eight-year term, represented a newly formed gas authority before the Utilities Commission within months after resigning. Duncan’s early departure to join a law firm raised questions at the time about how quickly she should represent clients before the commission. The Senate unanimously confirmed Duncan in July 2003 to the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. She has received bipartisan praise, with both GOP Sen. Elizabeth Dole and Democrat Sen. John Edwards supporting her nomination.
(8.27.03) Gas Pains for Customers, Taxpayers
RALEIGH — The secondary deal behind the purchase of North Carolina Natural Gas by Piedmont Natural Gas Co. could eventually cause customers’ rates to rise and diminish already faint hope that taxpayer-funded bond money will be repaid. Piedmont’s $417.5 million deal to buy NCNG from Progress Energy Inc. was accompanied by an agreement to also take on 50 percent of Eastern North Carolina Natural Gas. An expected future merger of ENCNG into Piedmont could mean the ability to recover bond funds gets lost, and ENCNG's operating losses may affect all of Piedmont's customers.
(6.11.03) Natural Gas Efforts Got Political Push
RALEIGH — In 1998 voters approved, by a 51 percent to 49 percent ratio, $200 million in bonds to extend natural-gas pipelines to 22 unserved counties in the state. However, the weight of State Senate leader Marc Basnight’s influence apparently enabled political allies in eastern North Carolina to manage $188.3 million of the available funds. None of the money is likely to be paid back because the bond legislation doesn’t require it, and because the pipeline project isn’t expected to be economically feasible for decades, if ever.
(6.11.03) Natural Gas Project Plays Role in Allegations
RALEIGH — In his pursuit to build ethanol plants in eastern North Carolina, DFI Group President William Horton says he unwittingly got on the wrong side of the most powerful politician in the state. Economic developers’ enthusiasm over Horton’s promise to bring jobs and a market for locally grown farm products was tempered by his deals with outsiders to deliver natural gas to his proposed plants. Horton attempted to work with South Carolina gas company SCANA Corporation and Texas-based El Paso Merchant Energy Corp. while Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight promoted a separate enterprise to get up to $200 million in taxpayer-backed bonds to build a pipeline in the east.
(4.28.03) Group Won't Release DFI-Related Info
RALEIGH — In an apparent violation of North Carolina Public Records Law, an economic development agency refuses to release information on some of its operations. The Northeastern NC Regional Economic Development Partnership claims it is not a public agency and is not subject to the public records law.The group is at the center of allegations made by Raleigh businessman William Horton of The DFI Group, who said partnership President Rick Watson conspired to thwart his ethanol projects in eastern North Carolina.
(3.07.03) Horton Drops Litigation Without Explanation
A Raleigh businessman withdrew a preliminary motion for a lawsuit he had filed against a group of businessmen in which he alleged they had interfered with his plans to build a fuel ethanol plant in Beaufort County. William Horton, in his initial filing in Wake County Superior Court on Feb. 10, said his complaint involved “a complex and intricate conspiracy involving extortion, corruption and racketeering by public and private individuals reaching the highest levels of state government.” “There is a definite reason why he did that,” said Horton’s lawyer, Scott Wilkinson. “We just can’t say why.”
(2.27.03) ABC Commissioner Fails to Disclose Related Business Interest
RALEIGH — A member of the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission failed to disclose his interests in a fuel ethanol plant when he filed his 2003 Statement of Economic Interest with the State Board of Ethics on Feb. 25. A Feb. 18 Carolina Journal Online story reported that the commissioner, Thomas “Ricky” Wright, Jr., a Wake Forest businessman, apparently violated the state Board of Ethics conflict-of-interest code by pursuing plans to build an ethanol plant in eastern North Carolina.
(2.24.03) Businessman Sues, Alleges Conspiracy in N.C. Government
RALEIGH — A Raleigh businessman is suing a consortium of interests, one of them linked to publicly funded Golden LEAF for allegedly conspiring to keep him from building an ethanol plant in Beaufort County. His accusations include racketeering, extortion, corruption, and conspiracy, which reach “the highest levels of state government.” The action was filed Feb. 10 in Wake County Superior Court by William Horton, president of The DFI Group, who alleges that a coalition of eastern North Carolina farmers and economic development officials used their political connections to state Senate President Pro Tempore Marc Basnight to pressure Horton to give up his business plans and site options for building the plant.
(2.18.03) ABC Commissioner Apparently Violated Ethics Guidelines
Don Carrington reports that a member of the state ABC Commission apparently violated the state Board of Ethics conflict-of-interest code by pursuing plans to build an ethanol plant in eastern North Carolina.
(2.12.03) Businessman Sues Group Affiliated with Golden LEAF
Don Carrington breaks a story about a businessman who has sought to build an ethanol plant in North Carolina for more than 20 years and is suing a consortium of interests including the North Carolina Grain Growers’ Cooperative, which is heavily financed by Golden LEAF.
(2.07.03) Co-op Transfers Ethanol Plant to Private Group
A farmers’ grain cooperative heavily subsidized by Golden LEAF has transferred its interest in building an ethanol plant in Beaufort County to a newly formed group of private investors, whose experience in alternative fuels is unclear.