Durham billionaire Greg Lindberg has been found guilty of orchestrating what the feds have called a widespread political bribery scandal.
Following a trial that lasted from Feb. 19 through this week, a jury in Charlotte handed down its verdict Thursday morning before Judge Max Cogburn. Lindberg was found guilty of trying to bribe N.C. Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey with the promise of campaign money. He was also found guilty on another public corruptions charge.
Lindberg's Associate John Gray was also found guilty on the two public corruption charges. They both face up to 20 years in prison on one charge, and 10 additional years for the second charge. Another associate, John Palermo, was found not guilty.
Lindberg and Gray are expected to appeal.
Lindberg, who led Durham’s Eli Global and its umbrella of insurance companies, was alleged to have offered “millions of dollars in campaign contributions” in exchange for favors from the North Carolina Department of Insurance – something he repeatedly denied through attorneys and spokespeople.
Both at the trial and in court filings, Lindberg’s attorneys have instead argued that the Durham entrepreneur was the victim of attempted entrapment by North Carolina Department of Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey.
It’s an argument prosecutors have denied, both in the courtroom and in filings, pointing to conversations where Lindberg and his co-conspirators are alleged to have tried to get one of Causey’s deputies removed.
Causey has admitted to wearing a wire and cooperating with the FBI during the investigation. And in November, he faces off against former NCDOI Commissioner Wayne Goodwin, among those who have received donations from Lindberg.
The indictment, unveiled last year, named Lindberg along with alleged coconspirators: Chapel Hill-based consultant John Gray, Eli Global vice president of special projects John Palermo, Jr. (who is also a past official of the GOP in Chatham County) and North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Robert Cannon Hayes.
Hayes later agreed to work with the prosecution and pleaded guilty last year.
The indictment, dated March 18 of 2019, claims Causey told the feds of his “concerns about political contributions and requests” made by both Lindberg and Gray.
The feds claimed in the indictment that the defendants “corruptly gave, offered and promised things of value ... including millions of dollars in campaign contributions and through an independent expenditure committee, in exchange for specific official action favorable to [Eli Global’s insurance companies].”
The indictment includes excerpts from both text messages and emails attributed to Hayes, such as one to Palermo regarding political matters that stated, “If u agree,I’ll suggest u put the money in the party and we will put it in races at your direction.”
After multiple meetings, Causey, by then already cooperating with the feds, met with Lindberg alone, asking, “What’s in it for me?”
And that’s when Lindberg is alleged to have spoken of the committee, pledging to “fund it himself with $1 million to $2 million.”
Lindberg, who donated more than $5 million in just 2017 and 2018 alone, is also one of the state's most prolific donors, contributing to a slew of campaigns, including that of Dan Forest, the Republican nominee for governor.
In the meantime, civil litigation involving Lindberg and his companies continues. Just last month a holding company tied to Lindberg, TAC Investments, sued Raleigh’s GoPrime Mortgage in North Carolina Business Court over dividends – just one of the cases his legal team faces. And recent legal findings reference another FBI investigation into Lindberg’s companies.
Lindberg's attorneys haven't returned requests to comment on the situation.
Palermo's attorney, Brian Cromwell, put out a statement Thursday afternoon following the verdict:
“We want to thank the jury members for their hard work and thoughtful deliberations. We ask that you respect John Palermo’s privacy following the verdict so that he and his family can start to move forward. While our client has always maintained his innocence, we have a tremendous amount of respect for the prosecutors and agents on the other side of the litigation and believe that they brought this case in good faith. That said, the lack of evidence against our client was deafening in its absence. The fact remains, in over 50 hours of undercover audio and video recordings and over 100 monitored telephone calls, Mr. Palermo never engaged in an explicit quid pro quo. Mr. Palermo was simply an employee tasked with administrative functions who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. That message would have never been effectively communicated to the jury without the hard work and dedication of Sarah Hutchins, Alli Davidson and the rest of the Parker Poe team.”