Donor to former Gov. Perdue indicted on obstruction charges
RALEIGH — A wealthy backer of former Gov. Beverly Perdue has been charged with obstructing justice and is scheduled to appear at a court hearing that could hasten the end of a long-running case involving undisclosed private plane flights for Perdue during her 2008 campaign, a state prosecutor said Tuesday.
A grand jury has indicted Morganton fast-food restaurant owner Charles Michael Fulenwider on a misdemeanor obstruction charge, Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby said Tuesday. A copy of the grand jury indictment was not available at the court clerk’s office Tuesday.
A grand jury earlier this month found probable cause to believe Fulenwider broke the law by funneling $32,000 to a Chapel Hill financial firm to secretly pay part of a Perdue fundraiser’s salary during the Democrat’s 2008 campaign. Grand jurors noted Fulenwider had already donated the maximum allowed to Perdue’s campaign when the scheme was hatched to support Juleigh Sitton with money moving through the firm of Peter Reichard, Perdue’s former campaign manager.
A call to Fulenwider’s office was not immediately returned Tuesday.
Fulenwider’s indictment comes ahead of a hearing Wednesday for Fulenwider, Robert Caldwell of Morganton, and long-time Perdue family friend Trawick “Buzzy” Stubbs Jr.. Caldwell and Stubbs are charged with felony obstruction of justice.
Fulenwider also played a central role in an investigation that picked up midway through Perdue’s term into 42 unreported flights on private aircraft provided to her 2008 campaign.
A state elections board investigator’s 2010 report on Perdue’s unreported flights found an invoice for a December 2007 flight was originally addressed to Fulenwider Enterprises, Fulenwider’s family company. Records show Fulenwider arranged several flights for Perdue after he had provided the maximum allowed $4,000 to Perdue for that election cycle.
Caldwell, a retired state magistrate, was charged with a felony for allegedly deceiving Perdue’s campaign by hiding the source of money used to pay for the 2007 flight.
Stubbs, a close family friend of Perdue who was the law partner of the former governor’s deceased first husband, is accused of paying for more than $28,000 worth of private flights for Perdue through his law firm and then lying about it. Stubbs prepared documents in October 2008 that purported the flights had been contributed to the state Democratic Party when they actually had gone to Perdue’s committee, according to his 2011 indictment.
Sitton, a Morganton lawyer who later became director of Perdue’s Western Office in Asheville at a $50,000-a-year state salary, pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in the case.
Reichard accepted criminal responsibility for an obstruction of justice count through an Alford plea, in which a defendant does not admit guilt but concedes there is enough evidence for a conviction and is sentenced as if guilty.
Perdue’s campaign committee said when Reichard was sentenced in December 2011 it had forfeited $32,000 in funds because it recognized the payments as an unlawful benefit. Perdue, a Democrat facing sagging poll numbers, announced six weeks later that she wouldn’t run for a second term, scrapping a potential 2012 rematch against 2008 GOP nominee Pat McCrory.
McCrory defeated Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton last November.