STATE: Ex-Rep. Hayes pardoned by Trump for role in bribery scandal

By GARY D. ROBERTSON Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A former North Carolina congressman and state Republican Party leader who lied to FBI agents about a bribery scandal received a pardon from outgoing President Donald Trump in his final hours in office.

Federal authorities said ex-Rep. Robin Hayes participated in a scheme while GOP state chairman in which a wealthy insurance company magnate attempted to bribe the state insurance commissioner with $1.5 million in campaign funds in exchange for removing a top department regulator. The company executive, Greg E. Lindberg, was convicted last year and is serving prison time. Lindberg had quickly become a major political donor in state politics.

Hayes, now 75, accepted a plea deal in fall 2019 on one count and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. He was sentenced last August to one year of probation and monetary penalties. Trump announced early Wednesday that he had either granted pardons or commuted the sentences of more than 140 people, a list that included Hayes.

The commissioner, Republican Mike Causey, wasn’t accused of wrongdoing, alerted authorities and recorded conversations for them. Hayes, Lindberg and two other associates were indicted.

U.S. attorneys said Hayes lied in 2018 to FBI agents even after being presented evidence that his statements were untrue. Agents played a recording of Hayes, Lindberg, Gray and Causey agreeing that the state GOP would contribute $250,000 to Causey’s campaign, according to a legal memo. Prosecutors recommended no prison time for Hayes, however, citing his admission to the crime and cooperation.

In a statement, Hayes said he was grateful to Trump for considering his case and “thankful for the constant prayer blessed upon me by friends and supporters over the past few years.” He said he “looked forward with enthusiasm towards new life adventures” with his children and grandchildren.

The White House pardon statement said Sen. Thom Tillis and several other members of the North Carolina congressional delegation “strongly support clemency for Mr. Hayes” who represented the 8th Congressional District from 1999 through 2008, including Stanly County.

Hayes, who also was a state legislator and 1996 gubernatorial candidate, “has had a long and distinguished career in public service and has taken full responsibility and demonstrated sincere contrition for his momentary lapse in judgment,” Tillis spokesman Daniel Keylin wrote in an email. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Charlotte, which prosecuted Hayes, Lindberg and Gray, declined to comment Wednesday.

Last March, jurors convicted Lindberg, who founded Eli Global LLC, and company consultant John Gray of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud as well as bribery. The third person who went to trial was acquitted. Lindberg is now serving a prison sentence of more than seven years. Gray is expected at prison by March 1 to serve a 2 1/2-year sentence.

Trump on Wednesday also pardoned Patrick Lee Swisher, the founder of Charlotte-based toilet sanitizing company Swisher Hygiene. Swisher pleaded guilty in 2002 to tax fraud and making false statements and was released from prison in 2004. The pardon was supported by NASCAR race team owner Rick Hendrick, U.S. Rep. Dan Bishop, a Republican from North Carolina, and others, the White House said.

The pardon announcement noted that Swisher started another business after his prison release that employs over 1,000 people, is involved in a nonprofit that provides college scholarships and has mentored former felons.