Tom Webb trying to re-enter politics after prison stint

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 28, 2011

By Karissa Minn
COOLEEMEE — Former Rowan County Commissioner Tom Webb says he wants to help the town of Cooleemee make progress, move on from its past and look forward into its future.
For more than a decade, he’s been working to do the same in his own life.
Webb moved from Rowan to the Davie County town in late 1999, shortly after his release from federal prison after serving more than two years on gun law violations.
As a convicted felon, he could not vote, sit on a jury or hold public office until his citizenship rights were restored in July of 2005. The former Granite Quarry gun shop owner cannot carry a firearm.
On July 8, he filed for mayor of Cooleemee. He is the only one challenging incumbent Lynn Rumley for the seat in 2011.
“I’ve worked at restoring who Tom is, and I want to help people,” Webb said in an interview last Wednesday. “I want to help the town of Cooleemee, the county of Davie and also the county of Rowan.”
The 61-year-old retired after working for seven or eight years at Schaefer Interstate Railing, where he supervised quality control and powder coating.
Webb said he has since served nearly two terms on Cooleemee’s planning board, where he helped develop a strategic plan for the town.
“I’m interested in seeing Cooleemee progress and improve,” Webb said. “I want to make sure things in government are for the benefit of the citizens.”
Cooleemee is a great place to live, he said, and it’s full of good people. But he added that some people still think the town doesn’t have much going for it.
“In the past, over the years, Cooleemee has had a black eye,” Webb said. “But it’s come past all that… and many individuals are working to try to make it a better place to live.”
Webb was elected as a Rowan County Commissioner in 1990 and re-elected in 1994.
His own “black eye” came in 1995, when federal investigators searched Webb’s business, Tom’s Guns in Granite Quarry, and seized records there.
In October 1996, a federal grand jury indicted Webb on eight felony counts and 12 misdemeanor counts related to gun law violations.
Webb maintained at the time, and still does now, that he made mistakes in his record keeping and may have lost some paperwork. He says they were not malicious errors but careless ones.
“I’m not perfect; nobody is,” Webb said last Wednesday. “I couldn’t sit here and swear to you and say, ‘Yes, I had the forms.’ I can’t say for sure.”
Investigators said Webb knowingly sold guns to people who did not have a permit and that he willingly broke laws designed to keep guns out of the hands of criminals.
During the trial, federal agents testified that Webb had sold guns out of the back of his pickup at restaurants. They also testified that many of the guns Webb sold later were linked to crimes.
Webb said Monday that he did sell some guns casually to friends — “They would say, ‘can you order this for me?’ and I’d say ‘sure’ ” — but he did not sell them to people if he knew they did not have a permit.
Midway through his trial in March 1997, Webb pleaded guilty to five felonies and five misdemeanors, all violations of federal gun laws. He was sentenced to serve 34 months at a minimum-security federal prison, followed by a two-year supervised release program.
His official release date was in October of 1999, but by August he was out of prison and on house arrest.
Webb said his “adventure,” as he calls his time away, made him think about what’s really important in life. After he got out of prison, he called his ex-wife Naomi to apologize for his part in their divorce.
The two remarried in May 2000 after spending 22 years apart.
As he runs for mayor of Cooleemee, Webb said he know he will have detractors, but he’s not trying to hide his past.
“The majority of people here know what went on… and they know who I am as a person and what I stand for,” Webb said. “You’ve got to put things behind you and go on. I’ve worked hard to restore my life to the way it should be.”
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.