← Back to portfolio

Donors Deny Giving Money to House Speaker

Published on 21st December 2003

By SCOTT DODD, JIM MORRILL and RICHARD RUBIN

Several donors with video poker-related connections told The Observer that they don't remember giving money to N.C. House Co-Speaker Jim Black -- although they're listed on his campaign finance reports.

"I don't know what to make of that," said Black, a Mecklenburg County Democrat. "I can't imagine anybody giving to me who doesn't know who I am."

Jean Jarvis of Wilkesboro said she doesn't know Black. "Is he Democrat, Republican or what?"

When told she's listed as contributing $500 to Black's campaign on Nov. 12, 2002, she replied: "Five hundred? And who is this guy? I don't know anything about it. I definitely haven't given anything like that."

Jarvis, whose husband Roland has an amusement machine business, said she doesn't regularly make contributions. "I don't know anything about it."

[Read the main story about the video poker industry's support of Jim Black.]

"You got me mixed up with somebody else," said Thomas Crowley of Rockingham, when asked about a contribution listed in his name on July 28, 2002. The address listed on the report is for his used-car dealership, he said, but he never gave to Black.

"I know for a fact that I did not," he said. "The day I gave $1,000 to somebody, hoo boy. I don't have that much to give."

Pat Moss of Rockingham gave Black $1,000 on July 28, 2002, according to campaign reports.

"I don't recollect that," he said. "I'd have to check on that."

He hung up when asked about his relationship to Wayne Moss of Rockingham -- his father, who gave $1,000 to Black on the same day as his son, and made an earlier contribution, also of $1,000.

The Mosses own Tri-County Tobacco, a cigarette distributor, and Cigarette World, a retail store with three video poker machines.

Wayne Moss told The Observer that he and several other Rockingham-area businessmen -- including his son, Pat -- contributed to Black's campaign because the representative from their area didn't support him for speaker.

"There was no kind of conspiracy to get him to vote something for us," Moss said.

Barbara Gathings of Hamlet, recalls giving $1,000 to Black on July 28, 2002, because "I didn't want them to take the poker machines out."

But Gathings gathered contributions from friends, she said, and put the donation in her name. "I wrote it up and gave it to Mr. (Leon) Johnson," she said.

She said Johnson, a longtime friend and convenience store owner, suggested she contribute.

It's illegal to give contributions from others in your name. Black said he would contact Gathings about her donation.

Rita Cowart of Gastonia is listed as a donor on Nov. 12, 2002, but said she has no idea about any contribution. She says she has never met Black and didn't know the name, even when told that he is the N.C. House co-speaker.

"I'm not a history person, so no, I don't know him," she said.

Cowart's employer is listed on the form as Amusements Only, but she said she doesn't work there, although a friend does. The company could not be reached.

***

This follow-up report was published in March 2007 by Observer columnist Jack Betts:

In late 2003, three Observer reporters started checking up on contributors to then-Speaker Jim Black after a political watchdog group noticed his campaign committees had gotten more money than any other candidate from video poker interests.

Bob Hall of Democracy North Carolina found that Black's committees had gotten more than $100,000 from video gaming interests in the previous two-year election cycle. It was especially interesting because legislation to outlaw video poker had twice passed the N.C. Senate, but not the House where Black presided.

Scott Dodd, Jim Morrill and Rich Rubin reported a few days before Christmas 2003 that while the video poker industry had pumped tons of money into Black's most recent campaign coffers, some individual contributors listed on campaign finance disclosure reports didn't even know they had given money,

"Five hundred?" asked Jean Jarvis of Wilkesboro, whose spouse was in the video game business. "And who is this guy?"

That's the sort of suspicious thing that kept reporters and investigators on Black's trail. That path led eventually to a seventh-floor courtroom of the federal building in Raleigh and a 10th-floor courtroom in the Wake County Courthouse. Black pleaded guilty to one federal charge and, in effect, guilty to two state felonies as well.