Federal court throws out political donor Lindberg’s bribery, fraud convictions

United States Federal Bureau of Investigation, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Listen to this story (3 minutes)

  • Former N.C. political donor Greg Lindberg will get a new trial on charges of bribery and fraud.
  • A unanimous 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals panel ruled that bad jury instructions "infected" Lindberg's 2020 conviction in a high-profile case.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has tossed out bribery and fraud convictions against prominent N.C. political donor Greg Lindberg. Appellate judges cited mistakes in the trial judge’s jury instructions that “infected” Lindberg’s convictions.

The Appeals Court has ordered a new trial for Lindberg, who is serving a seven-year federal prison sentence based on his 2020 convictions.

At one time, Lindberg was the state’s highest-spending election donor.

Authorities contend that Lindberg attempted to bribe N.C. Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey after Causey’s 2016 election. Working with the FBI, Causey recorded his conversations with Lindberg. Among those conversations, Causey later testified that a Lindberg associate had promised $110,000 of a $500,000 donation to the state Republican Party would go to Causey’s campaign. Lindberg also promised to hold a fundraiser for Causey.

Causey’s cooperation with federal authorities helped lead to the charges against Lindberg.

The case centered on Lindberg’s request that Causey replace a state Insurance Department official whose job involved interaction with Lindberg’s insurance-related businesses. Linking the campaign cash to that request prompted federal charges of honest services fraud and federal funds bribery.

Lindberg’s appeal involved questions about whether the personnel change in Causey’s department would have constituted an “official act” that would have been a necessary element of the criminal charges.

“Here, although the district court properly defined the term ‘official act,’ … it then instructed the jury in no uncertain terms ‘that the removal or replacement of a [S]enior [D]eputy [C]ommissioner by the [C]ommissioner would constitute an official act,’” wrote Chief Judge Roger Gregory. “In doing so, we find that the district court impermissibly took an element of the crime out of the hands of the jury and violated the defendant’s Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights.”

That mistake was enough to vacate Lindberg’s conviction, according to Gregory and his colleagues. “Here, we cannot conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that the jury verdict would have been the same absent the error.”

The investigation also led to criminal charges against Robin Hayes, who served at the time as chairman of the N.C. Republican Party. Authorities say Hayes helped facilitate the transaction between Lindberg and the GOP. Hayes pleaded guilty in 2019 to lying to federal investigators. He secured a pardon from former President Donald Trump in January 2021.