News: CJ Exclusives

Jim Black’s Property Settlement in Corruption Case May Not Add Up

Imprisoned former North Carolina House Speaker Jim Black used undeveloped land with a tax value of less than $150,000 to pay off an outstanding $500,000 state fine linked to his conviction on corruption charges, according to Mecklenburg County property records.

Wake County Superior Court Judge Donald W. Stephens approved the transfer of two vacant tracts on Rice Road in Matthews on May 14, stating in a court order that the property “has a fair market value roughly equal to the remaining fines, restitution and court costs to be paid in this case based on previous offers to purchase.”

Property records show the land was deeded over to Wake County public schools the same day, per state law directing such fines to support public schools.

The transaction officially satisfied the $500,000 debt due Wake County.

Black was convicted of bribery and corruption in 2007 and is currently in federal prison in Pennsylvania until 2012. In addition to the prison sentence, Black was fined $1 million. Soon after the conviction Black was given an extension by the court on payment of the fine after claiming adverse real estate market conditions made it difficult to raise the money required to pay the fine. In exchange for the extension, Black pledged his former Tryon Street office as collateral. That property has a tax value of $1.1 million.

In June of last year, Black paid half of the fine, leaving $500,000 outstanding. Stephens had initially set a Jan. 1 deadline for payment of that amount, but opted not to enforce it. The May agreement approved by Stephens leaves Black with at least $2 million in property in Mecklenburg County alone.

When paying the $500,000 fine last year, Black said, “I always intended to leave a portion of my estate to help secure the enhancement of North Carolina’s public educational system. And while this payment comes a bit premature, I gladly give it knowing that North Carolina’s children will be the beneficiaries.”

Unless the Wake County school system can find a buyer willing to pay at least $500,000 for land that has been undeveloped for 40 years, it will fail to receive the full amount it was due.

In addition to the Tryon Street building, Black owns a residence in Matthews with a tax value of almost $500,000, a Central Avenue day-care center building, and several parcels of prime real estate in the commercial center of Matthews. These latter Matthews parcels together are valued at around $450,000. Many local real estate observers assumed Black would have to sell these holdings on Charles and John streets in Matthews to pay the balance of the fine.

Instead, Black has used nine acres of vacant land adjacent to a large Duke Energy easement to satisfy his debt to the state. No other Black-owned property has been transferred to Wake County apart from the Rice Road land, according to court records and a legal notice published in The Charlotte Business Journal.

The larger eight-acre parcel has a 2003 tax value of $117,000 and the adjacent one-acre parcel is valued at $31,000. A small ranch home on almost one acre next door sold for $97,500 in 2002, according to county records.

A 6.5-acre parcel across the street from the Matthews property now owned by the Wake County Board of Education was sold in 2002 for $37,500 to Rice Road LLC. State records indicate that Jim Black’s son is the registered agent and manager of Rice Road LLC.

At the time of his conviction Black also owned three lake properties in Iredell County valued at almost $2 million.

Recently, Black’s lawyer Whit Powell cited the “heavy, heavy sentence” Black has served in addition to the million-dollar fine in asking President Barack Obama to either release Black or move him to a federal facility closer to Mecklenburg County.

Jeff A. Taylor is a contributor to Carolina Journal and authors the Meck Deck blog.