News: CJ Exclusives

Ballance Sentencing Day Nears

Former congressman and son pled guilty to misusing state money

The pre-sentencing reports for former U.S. Rep. Frank Ballance and his son, state District Judge Garey Ballance, both of Warren County, have been completed; the next step is scheduling of their sentence hearings.

Both pleaded guilty in federal court to charges related to the misuse of state money.

Michelle Gessner, case manager for U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle, told Carolina Journal that the federal clerk of court received Frank Ballance’s pre-sentencing report several weeks ago, but that the report on Garey Ballance was received Friday. Pre-sentencing reports are prepared by federal probation officers and circulated to the federal government attorney and the defense lawyer for review. The reports contain all the background information on a defendant that a judge may need before sentencing. The reports often take several months to complete and are not considered public information.

“Judge Boyle’s court calendar had already been set for October, but the schedule is entirely up to him.” She said he could actually add the Ballance cases in October if he chooses. She also said the location of the sentencing hearing was up to Judge Boyle but it would be held in Elizabeth City or Raleigh.

In September 2004, a Federal Grand Jury indicted Frank Ballance and Garey Ballance. Frank Ballance was charged with diverting more than $100,000 in state funds meant for the John A. Hyman Memorial Foundation. The funds went to his son, daughter, mother, church, and law firm while he was a state senator. Frank Ballance was chairman of the foundation and also chairman of the board of deacons of Greenwood Baptist Church in Warrenton, where the Hyman offices were situated.

Garey Ballance was charged with willful failure to file a federal income tax return for the year 2000, a misdemeanor that has a maximum punishment of a year in prison and a $100,000 fine. He failed to report receiving $20,000 from the foundation. He used the money as a down payment on a sports utility vehicle.

In November 2004 Frank Ballance pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and money laundering. According to the terms of the plea agreement, he could receive up to five years in prison.

Frank Ballance has indicated that he has more to say about the scandal. “One of these days I’ll have a story to tell you,” Raleigh’s WRAL-TV reported Ballance telling journalists outside the courthouse after his guilty plea.

In March 2005 Garey Ballance pleaded guilty to federal income-tax evasion. His maximum penalty as well as his future as a Warren County district court judge is unclear.

Running unopposed, he was re-elected to the bench in November 2004. Under the terms of a plea agreement proposed by federal prosecutors, Garey Ballance’s crime would be a misdemeanor and therefore he could continue as a judge. That possibility disturbed Boyle, so even though he has accepted the younger Ballance’s admission of guilt, Boyle postponed a decision on accepting the terms of the plea agreement. Federal prosecutors said that Garey Ballance’s future as a judge should be determined by North Carolina officials, not by the federal court.

Shortly after Garey Ballance’s admission of guilt, the North Carolina Judicial Standards Commission said it would review Ballance’s situation at its meeting in April. Commission Executive Secretary Paul Ross told CJ Wednesday that the matter is still under investigation. The commission is charged with enforcing the code of ethics for state judges. It makes recommendations to the N.C. Supreme Court justices, who then decide whether to remove or censor a judge.

Since pleading guilty, Garey Ballance has continued to serve as a judge. According to several Warren County residents, he is still driving the Lincoln Navigator that was partially paid for with state funds.

Don Carrington is executive editor of Carolina Journal.