State probing sweepstakes donations

Jun. 11, 2014 @ 03:20 PM

The State Bureau of Investigation is probing campaign donations provided to North Carolina politicians by the video sweepstakes industry.

North Carolina Department of Justice spokeswoman Noelle Talley confirmed Wednesday the criminal investigation into possible public corruption, which she said began in 2013. Talley said the probe was prompted by requests from federal and state prosecutors in Raleigh.

Talley would not specify the targets of the investigation.

The Associated Press reported last year that political donations from Oklahoma gaming software provider Chase E. Burns may have violated state laws prohibiting corporate money from funding political campaigns. The Republican campaigns of Gov. Pat McCrory, House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate leader Phil Berger gave to charity thousands in donations linked to Burns after he was charged with running an illegal gambling enterprise in Florida.

McCrory, Berger and Tillis have denied any wrongdoing in taking the donations from the software provider.

GOP lawmakers are currently proposing to remove the SBI from the supervision of Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper and place the agency under McCrory's control.

"This is an example of the type of public corruption investigation we're concerned could be thwarted or repressed by not giving prosecutors access to an independent investigative team like they currently have with the SBI," Talley said.

Berger said Wednesday he has no knowledge of the investigation, nor has he or any of his staff been questioned by investigators. He also said he has received no subpoenas related to the issue.

Anna Roberts, a spokeswoman for Tillis, also said the speaker was not aware of the SBI investigation.

"He has not been interviewed or subpoenaed and, to our knowledge, no staff member has been interviewed or subpoenaed," Roberts said.

A spokesman for McCrory said Wednesday they were preparing a response.

The checking account used last year to make $235,000 in donations to the campaigns of dozens of North Carolina politicians from both political parties contained the laundered proceeds of a criminal gambling enterprise, according to Oklahoma's top law enforcement official.

The donations were drawn from one of several accounts tied to Burns, who lives in Anadarko, Okla. In September, he pleaded no contest in Florida to two criminal counts of assisting in the operation of a lottery. As part of a plea deal, prosecutors dropped 205 felony counts against Burns, including racketeering and money laundering charges.

In November, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt finalized a separate agreement in which Burns agreed to forfeit $3.5 million from bank accounts seized as part of the investigation. According to Pruitt, the money came directly from the "laundered proceeds" of Burns' sweepstakes software company, International Internet Technologies.

Court filings reviewed by The Associated Press show $1 million of that forfeited money came from a checking account in the name of the Chase Burns Trust — the same account used to send the donations to political campaigns in North Carolina.

___

Follow Associated Press writer Michael Biesecker at Twitter.com/mbieseck

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.