RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A Republican who played a prominent role in drawing North Carolina districts that were declared gerrymanders by courts resigned Thursday from the state House after being accused of federal fraud and tax violations.
State Rep. David Lewis, chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee since 2015, conducted a scheme to transfer money from his campaign committee to help his ailing farm, prosecutors said.
Lewis, 49, entered a plea agreement with federal prosecutors in Charlotte. According to the agreement, he will plead guilty to making false statements to a bank and failing to timely file a 2018 tax return. Government prosecutors won’t recommend active prison time.
“The plea agreement signifies my commitment to put an unfortunate chapter behind me,” Lewis said in a news release. “These are my mistakes, and my mistakes alone. I am very sorry for these mistakes, and I apologize.”
A formal plea hearing is scheduled for next week, a court record shows.
The Harnett County Republican already had announced last month he wouldn’t be seeking a tenth term this November.
As rules chairman, Lewis served as a top lieutenant to House Speaker Tim Moore, controlling the flow of legislation within the chamber.
He was a chief legislative author of Republican redistricting plans in recent years and the resulting litigation that followed. One lawsuit involving congressional maps that went to the U.S. Supreme Court pivoted on Lewis’ public comments about attempts to keep 10 of the U.S. House seats in Republican hands.
A document released by prosecutors and signed by Lewis' attorney laying out the facts for the agreement said that Lewis made $300,000 in transfers from his campaign account to his bank account for Lewis Farms between January and May of 2018. While the campaign was later repaid in full, the expenditures were not reported to the State Board of Elections.
In the summer of 2018, according to prosecutors, Lewis opened a bank account for an entity called “NC GOP, Inc." and signed a document attesting it was a North Carolina corporation of which Lewis was president. But it wasn't a legal entity, the document says.
He subsequently deposited $65,000 from a Lewis campaign account, seemingly payable to the entity, into the "NC GOP, Inc." bank account. Almost all of it ultimately went to Lewis Farms, the document says. Lewis later paid $65,000 from a personal bank account to the state Republican Party, in keeping with his campaign reports that described contributions to the state party, the court document said.
The State Board of Elections had no information late Thursday about whether it was investigating Lewis’ campaign committee.
Recent financial troubles had surfaced for Lewis, especially after Hurricane Florence in 2018, which he said last year had caused “catastrophic damage.”
“Farming has been tough for me for the past six years in a row and the financial stress I’ve been under has been tremendous,” Lewis said in Thursday’s release. “However, that is the reality facing many family farms, and it does not excuse my mistakes.”
By last fall, Lewis had taken out well over $1 million in loans to address his farm problems, including $500,000 from John Gray, a political consultant and fellow farmer, WRAL-TV reported last year. Gray was one of four people indicted during a federal investigation into attempts to bribe state Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey.
A jury convicted Gray in March and he was sentenced on Wednesday to 2 1/2 years in prison. There is no mention of Gray in Thursday's documents involving Lewis. Former state GOP Chairman Robin Hayes, who was among those indicted in the bribery case, accepted a plea agreement and received probation on Wednesday.
Moore, who has known Lewis since college, wished "the Lewis family well moving forward from this.”
“While people make mistakes they must be held accountable, particularly as public servants,” Moore said in a news release.
Democrats hoping to retake control of the House for the first time since 2010 in November jumped on the news about Lewis.
“North Carolinians cannot trust ... Moore and House Republicans to legislate in the people’s best interest when key members of his team put their own personal interests first and foremost,” Democratic state Rep. Graig Meyer said in a release.