WILMINGTON — A major Democratic fundraiser illegally funneled about $150,000 into the campaigns of Gov. Bev Perdue and Senate leader Marc Basnight, a judge ruled Tuesday.
Rusty Carter, who owns the Atlantic Packaging Corp. of Wilmington and who was on the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees, struck a deal with prosecutors and pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor counts of giving illegal donations. The scheme extended to other candidates not covered in the plea, records show.
Judge John J. Carroll III of New Hanover County accepted the deal, which was entered under what's known as an Alford plea. Such a plea allows defendants to assert innocence while acknowledging the evidence is against them.
Carter said in a statement after the court hearing Tuesday that he has "accepted responsibility" for the violations.
The judge ordered that Carter pay a $5,000 fine - an amount specified in the plea agreement - and prohibited Carter from making campaign donations for the next two years. A 30-day jail sentence was suspended.
The prosecutor, Tom Old, spent nearly two decades as a trial court judge in Ohio. He said that he had been surprised to discover that the violations were misdemeanors.
"That's too little," Old said. "Something like this should probably be a felony, if only to discourage that kind of conduct. A felony has a whole lot more bearing on people's conduct, particularly sophisticated people with wealth."
Carter, 61, became a heavy hitter in political circles by raising large sums. He served for years on the UNC-Chapel Hill board, an appointment he secured through his fraternity brother, former Gov. Mike Easley.
Perdue appointed Carter's wife, Susan, to the UNC-Wilmington Board of Trustees last year; she resigned recently as news of the questionable contributions surfaced.
Carter channeled money through some of his employees. He gave them bonuses from company accounts and directed the employees to use the money for political donations, according to his lawyers and a prosecutor.
It's illegal to give money to someone else for the purpose of evading the state's $4,000 per person contribution limit. Violations are a class 2 misdemeanor, the equivalent of failing to yield for an emergency vehicle.
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