Board of Elections sends Sen. Fletcher Hartsell campaign finance case to prosecutors

Board of Elections Chairman Josh Howard (right) talks to Roger Knight, attorney for Sen. Hartsell, as Kim Strach looks on.

Board of Elections Chairman Josh Howard (right) talks to Roger Knight, attorney for Sen. Hartsell, as Kim Strach looks on.

RALEIGH – In a hearing today the State Board of Elections voted unanimously to refer the campaign finances of state Sen. Fletcher Hartsell (R-Cabarrus) to to prosecutors for possible criminal prosecution. The vote came following an investigation by the N.C. State Board of Elections that found that Hartsell used campaign funds for a variety of illegitimate expenses including speeding tickets, shoe repairs, life insurance premiums, and a complex schemes where he would pay off a handful of personal credit cards and pay his own companies’ expenses for his law firm and a limited liability corporation that manages a church-related property in Concord.

Ineligible expenses and overpayments over the 2009-2012 period may have totaled more than $109,000, Kim Strach, Executive Director of the Board of Elections, said in a presentation that lasted over two hours. Strach said that Hartsell used bizarre record-keeping and reimbursement activities which made the two-year investigation quite difficult.

“This was a pattern of opaque and circuitous disclosures at a time when he accumulated a great amount of personal debt,” said Board of Elections Chairman Joshua Howard, a Republican.

Howard, who is a former federal prosecutor, stressed the seriousness of the activities while reminding those in attendance that the board was not accusing Hartsell of a crime. A district attorney or U.S. Attorney will make the decision about whether to file criminal charges against Hartsell.

CREDIT: NC General Assembly

CREDIT: NC General Assembly

Hartsell did not appear at the hearing, but was represented by Raleigh attorney Roger Knight. Knight said that Hartsell had already spent a great amount of time with the Board of Elections staff and that the vote on the Senate budget today was too important for him to appear.

Hartsell claimed that he is actually owed more than $50,000 by his campaign committee due to a $10,000 loan he made to his campaign that was never fully repaid.

But Strach claims that not only was he was repaid the loan in full, but the campaign continued to make interest payments even after paying him back in full.

The board also voted to consider the assessment of civil penalties against Hartsell. It will make a decision about those penalties by the end of the year.

Board of Elections members were uniformly incredulous about Hartsell’s activities and his explanations.

When informed that Hartsell claimed a portion of his driver’s license renewal fee as a campaign-related expense, Howard asked if Strach had inquired whether Hartsell would drive if he were not a Senator.

“I asked him that,” Strach said. “He said he didn’t know.”

“Does he know that he’s a member of the Studebaker drivers club?” Howard asked.

Strach also claimed that Hartsell’s campaign paid for a variety of items on Sept. 30, 2006, which happened to be the day before the stricter campaign-expenditure law went into effect.

“We went back to the beginning of his campaign records,” Strach explained. “It was the single most expensive day for the campaign.”

Howard said he was proud that the board made another bipartisan, unanimous decision. By the end of the hearing, there was little doubt what the board would do.

“There appears to be an intent to obfuscate what was going on,” said Maja Kricker, one of two Democrats on the board.