Former NC Legislator, Bribed by Chiropractors, Sentenced to Prison

Stephen Barrett, M.D.
July 18, 2007

In February 2007, James Boyce Black, a/k/a Jim Black, pled guilty to one felony count of corruptly accepting things of value concerning programs receiving federal funds [1]. The offense involved taking about $25,000 in cash, plus a $4,000 check, in payments from three chiropractors in exchange for backing legislation favorable to their profession [2]. The payments were made between 2000 and 2005 when Black was Speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives. The details of the case are described in the Government’s sentencing memorandum:

Black served as a member of the North Carolina House of Representatives from January 1985 to February 2007. Black was elected as Speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives for four terms from 1999 to 2006. As Speaker of the House, the defendant wielded enormous influence over legislation and other state business, such as the budget of the State of North Carolina. Due in large part to the power held by the Speaker of the House, Speaker Black received millions of dollars of campaign contributions from individuals and political action committees during his tenure as Speaker. Included among these contributors were chiropractors, optometrists, video poker operators, members of the payday lending industry, and lobbyists.

Sometime between 2000 and February of 2002, Speaker Black approached two chiropractors and informed them that cash payments would be more helpful than campaign contributions in gaining support from other members of the North Carolina House of Representatives. The two chiropractors agreed to provide Speaker Black with cash payments and ultimately recruited a third chiropractor to provide cash payments to Speaker Black. As noted below, the defendant received $25,000 in cash payments and an improper check for $4,000 from the following three chiropractors: (i) Dr. Thomas Brown; (ii) Dr. Fletcher Keith; and (iii) Dr. Steven Willen. . . .

During the time period that the defendant received payments from the three chiropractors, a number of pieces of legislation pertaining to the chiropractic industry were considered by the North Carolina legislature, including legislation prohibiting health insurers from requiring patients to pay higher co-payments for visits to chiropractors than for visits to physicians.

During the 2005 legislative session, Speaker Black caused legislation to be drafted to accomplish this goal, and helped helped get it inserted into the House version of the Budget Bill (Senate Bill 622). The provision was ultimately passed into law. See North Carolina Session Laws, 2005-276, § 6.29, amending N.C. Gen. Stat. § 58-50- 30(a3).

After the results of the general election of November, 2002, left the North Carolina House of Representatives with 61 Republican members and 59 Democratic members, it was unclear whether Speaker Black would be re-elected as Speaker. Consequently, Speaker Black met in the restroom of an IHOP Restaurant with Michael P. Decker Sr., a long time Republican member of the House of Representatives, and reached an agreement under which the defendant agreed to give Decker $50,000 and one staff position in return for his promise to switch from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party and support the defendant for Speaker of the House.

On February 20, 2007, the defendant entered an Alford guilty plea to a two-count bill of information charging him with offering a bribe and obstruction of justice relating to his agreement with Decker.

Pursuant to his agreement with Speaker Black, on January 23, 2003, just prior to the start of the legislative session, Decker switched his party affiliation. As a result of his party switch, the North Carolina House of Representatives was evenly split between 60 Republicans and 60 Democrats. This split allowed Speaker Black, after an 8-day stalemate, to negotiate a party sharing arrangement under which he was named co-speaker. Speaker Black then gave about $38,000 in campaign checks from his traditional supporters to Decker, along with $12,000 in cash. . . . During the period from February, 2002, through December, 2005, chiropractors Thomas Brown, Fletcher Keith, and Steve Willen provided Speaker Black with $29,000 in corrupt payments, of which $25,000 was in the form of cash. . . . It is noteworthy that, as was the case in striking his agreement with Decker, Speaker Black met Steve Willen in bathrooms to receive two of the corrupt cash payments.

In addition to providing Speaker Black with corrupt payments 4 during this time period, the chiropractors held fund-raisers for Speaker Black and met with Speaker Black to discuss legislation relevant to their practice.

On December 14, 2004, Speaker Black met with chiropractor Steven Willen in a restaurant restroom in Concord and accepted $4,000 in cash. On December 3, 2005, a fund-raiser for Speaker Black was held by a group of chiropractors at the Capital Grille in Charlotte, North Carolina. During the fund-raiser, Willen met Speaker Black in a restroom in order to secretly deliver to Speaker Black a $3,000 cash payment. When a restaurant employee entered the restroom, Willen and Speaker Black stepped just outside the restroom and completed the delivery. Upon receiving the $3,000 in cash, Speaker Black stated to Willen, “This is just between me and you. Don’t you ever tell anybody about this.”

Speaker Black did not deposit the aforementioned cash payments, totaling approximately $25,000, into the bank account of his campaign and did not report the payments to the North Carolina State Board of Elections (“NC-BOE”) as campaign contributions. In receiving these payments and converting them to his own use, Speaker Black intended to be rewarded in connection with the business of state government in which he participated, said state business involving many millions of dollars. On February 15, 2007, the defendant entered a guilty plea to receiving corrupt payments in connection with business of state government related to federal programs, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 666(a)(1)(B). [3]

Two months after After Black’s guilty plea, the North Carolina legislature repealed the provision.

In July 2007, Black was sentenced to 63 months imprisonment, 3 years supervised release, a $50,000 fine, and a $100 special assessment [4].

  1. Memorandum of plea agreement. USA v. Black. U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina Case No. 5:07-CR-42-1-D, filed February 15, 2007.
  2. Criminal information. USA v. Black, filed July 9, 2007.
  3. Sentencing memorandum. USA v. Black, filed July 9, 2007.
  4. Black sentenced to 63 months in prison. US Department of Justice news release, July 11, 2007.

This article was posted on July 18, 2007.