Lindberg co-defendant wants separate retrial in bribery case

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  • A co-defendant of former top North Carolina political donor Greg Lindberg wants to separate the retrials of the two men on federal bribery and fraud charges.
  • Political consultant John Gray argued in court filings this week that Lindberg's defense could prejudice Gray's case.
  • Both Lindberg and Gray are scheduled to return to federal court on May 6. Federal prosecutors oppose separating the two cases.

Former top North Carolina political donor Greg Lindberg’s co-defendant in a federal bribery and fraud case wants to separate his retrial from Lindberg’s. The two defendants are now scheduled to return to federal court for a joint retrial on May 6.

The case involves the federal government’s charges that Lindberg bribed state Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey after Causey’s 2016 election. Causey worked with federal investigators, including wearing a surveillance wire during interactions with the defendants.

Co-defendant John Gray filed paperwork Monday asking a federal court “to order severance of his trial” from Lindberg’s case. A motion from Gray describes the planned joint retrial as a “prejudicial joinder.” The document indicates that federal prosecutors oppose the motion to split the two trials.

Lindberg, Gray, and two other defendants all were joined for the original trial in February and March 2020. One defendant, former state Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes, entered a guilty plea before the trial. A jury acquitted defendant John Palermo.

The jury convicted Lindberg and Gray. Lindberg faced a seven-year prison sentence. Gray was sentenced to 30 months in prison. The 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals later threw out both convictions in June 2022 because of problems related to jury instructions.

Gray was a political consultant “hired by Lindberg to interact with the Department of Insurance,” according to his court filings this week.

“At the first trial, the defenses of Lindberg and Gray defenses were compatible if not identical: we did nothing wrong but, if we did, we were entrapped to do so,” Gray’s lawyers wrote.

Yet events since the initial conviction in March 2020 suggest the two men might approach a retrial with a different defense.

Gray’s court filing points to an online newspaper advertisement from Lindberg six months after the conviction. The ad described Lindberg as a “political neophyte” who relied on bad advice from more experienced advisers, including Gray.

The court document also cites Lindberg’s self-published book about the 633 days he spent in prison before the 4th Circuit’s ruling. ” In the book, he again blames John Gray, among others, for misleading him about the criminality of his conduct,” Gray’s lawyers wrote.

“If Mr. Lindberg’s published thoughts are any indication, he now asserts a different defense – that, yes, he was involved in criminal conduct but that his involvement was blameless and he was misled into crime by Gray and others,” Gray’s lawyers wrote.

“Lindberg’s assertions that ‘Gray-made-me-do-it’ are consonant with arguments made by government counsel at Gray’s sentencing,” the document continued. “At the upcoming re-trial, the government’s position would be enhanced considerably and Mr. Gray’s defense unfairly prejudiced by Lindberg’s newfound defense.”

“Defense counsel understands that ‘advice of political consultant’ is not a legal defense,” Gray’s lawyers wrote. “Lindberg now contends, however, that Gray was one of a group of professionals – including attorneys – who misled him regarding his dealings with Commissioner Causey. Evidence of the contemporaneous advice given him by lawyers will be inextricable from evidence of the advice Lindberg claims was provided by Gray.”

“Here, Gray would be relatively powerless to combat a problem that he had no hand in making,” according to the court filing.

“In order to acquit Gray, the jury must now, in addition to rejecting the government’s arguments, discount Lindberg’s contention that Gray and others beguiled him into committing certain crimes,” Gray’s lawyers wrote. “Lindberg, in testifying or offering other evidence in support of this theory, would become a ‘second prosecutor’ of Gray.”

Federal prosecutors will have a chance to reply to Gray’s request before the court makes a ruling.

US District Judge Max Cogburn agreed in October to delay the retrial. It had been scheduled for November.

The joint retrial has been delayed twice. In both cases, the delay related to legal representation for Gray.

The retrial is tied to federal charges that Lindberg attempted to bribe Causey with “more than $2 million” after Causey’s 2016 election.

A second federal trial related to a separate 13-count indictment against Lindberg already has been delayed. Originally scheduled last summer, that case will now be pushed back until after the bribery and fraud retrial.

Before the legal action against him, Lindberg had attracted attention as a top donor to political campaigns in North Carolina. He supported Democratic Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin’s unsuccessful 2016 re-election bid. Goodwin lost to Causey.

Later Lindberg became the largest financial contributor in 2017 to the NC Republican Party and two groups supporting then-Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, a Republican. Forest lost the 2020 governor’s race to the incumbent Democrat, Gov. Roy Cooper.