It's been one of the biggest stories of the year in eastern North Carolina. State Senator RC Soles is under criminal investigation following a series of stories we broke on WWAY. The Columbus County Democrat is being investigated for allegations of child molestation and for shooting a man at his home. Our coverage started in August 2008, after we learned a number of Sen. Soles' young, male legal clients were repeatedly arrested at the Senator's home and office. The charges ranged from trespassing and theft, to more serious offenses like extortion and arson. We spoke with several of the young men involved, to find out why the police had to keep getting involved in their dealings with the Senator. Allen Strickland, who was 16 at the time, told us "I guess he thought I was harassing him because I wouldn't stop following him. So he flagged down the police and told the police we were following him but he didn't want to press charges." While most of the young men had only nice things to say about the Senator, one of them, 26-year-old Stacey Scott, said the story had a much darker side. In an interview in August 2008, Scott said "The FBI is investigating him as far as I know for embezzlement, arson, child molestation. He did try to molest me when I was 15 years old, and I have not told the feds that. He tried to grab by my genetalia and backed off and I said, you know my dad would kill you. He said please don't tell nobody and he gave me a thousand dollars." We didn't air that interview for a full year after it was recorded. Stacey Scott had a criminal record, and he refused to tell his story to authorities. Scott said he thought they were under the Senator's control. In July of this year, Allen Strickland contacted us again. He wanted to talk about the ongoing FBI investigation surrounding the Senator. When we went to meet him for the interview, we were surprised to see he had a brand new house and a Corvette. He said Sen. Soles paid for them. We tried for weeks to contact the Sen. Soles to ask if that was true. He failed to return more than a dozen phone calls. WWAY political reporter Kevin Wuzzardo finally asked Sen. Soles about the gifts during an unrelated interview. Kevin: "On another matter, a young man named Allen Strickland told us that you've given him tens of thousands of dollars to pay for his house and his car, as part of an arrangement that if he finishes school, you'll buy him these things, have you given him that money?" Sen. Soles: "I cannot hear you." Kevin: (louder) "A young man named Allen strickland told us that you've given him tens of thousands of dollars to pay for his house and his car." Sen. Soles: "I cannot hear you, speak up." Kevin: (louder) "A young man named Allen Strickland.. " Sen. Soles: "Speak up." Kevin: "Do you hear me, Senator?" The phone then went dead. The Senator knew he was being recorded, and he had not had any problems hearing the previous nine minutes of that interview. When we tried to call him back after the line went dead, he was no longer available. Less than 24 hours after that phone call, Allen Strickland's house went up in flames while he was inside. "This whole town is jealous of how I got that house, how I got my car, how I get money and all, and everybody just can't stand it," Strickland said. When asked if someone was trying to hurt him, Strickland added "Yeah, somebody is trying to hurt me. Whoever did it, they did it with the intention of me getting killed." That fire attracted state-wide media attention, and Sen. Soles finally admitted he bought the house for Strickland, with the agreement that the teen finish school. As more people began to ask about the nature of the unusual relationship between the 74-year-old Senator and the 17-year-old Tabor City teen, Soles publicly decried the reporting of our station as tabloid journalism. It was at that point our management felt the need to air the 2008 interview with Stacey Scott, so viewers would understand why we were watching this story so closely. In that interview, Scott said "nobody is ever going to believe anybody like me with my criminal record. Nobody is going to believe me... But R.C. Soles is not the man he paints the picture to be." "He said I'll have you done away with and nobody will ever ask questions. Don't you know who I am? I'm a Senator. I've been a senator for 40 years," Scott told us. After seeing that interview, Tabor City Police Chief Donald Dowless and District Attorney Rex Gore asked for the State Bureau of Investigation to step in and look into Scott's claims. Finally, Sen. Soles agreed to talk to us. "I'm surprised and yet really not surprised," said Sen. Soles. "I've know Stacey a long time and he has lots of mood swings. One day he's just as nice as can be and the next he's not." To his constituants, Soles said "I've done nothing wrong. I ask that you stick by me and say a prayer for me." One week after that interview, on August 23, Soles shot a man outside his house. It was another one of his clients, 22-year-old Kyle Blackburn. Soles told police Blackburn was trying to break into his home. Blackburn told WWAY he was leaving the property when Soles shot him. The SBI took over the shooting investigation, and in the midst of public outcry, DA Gore recused himself from the case. Gore is a longtime friend and political ally of Soles, and said he didn't want there to be any appearance of a conflict of interest. Meanwhile, the investigation into the sexual allegations is ongoing. WWAY has learned at least one more person has come forward to say he was also molested by the Senator. The man, who asked us to protect his identity, spoke to our Joe Mauceri. He said he was molested about 30 years ago, when he was just 13 years old. "I was appalled and socially embarrassed and psychologically scarred. Coming from an area like Tabor City, well that's not exactly the kind of thing that you would talk about." The man said the shooting prompted him to tell us his story. He said he didn't want the Senator to hurt anyone else. Earlier this month, a Columbus County Grand Jury asked prosecutors to seek an indictment against Soles for felony assault, for shooting Kyle Blackburn in alte August. We should know in January if Soles will be indicted and arrested on that charge. If he is convicted of the felony, the state's longest serving legislator would no longer be eligible to hold office. WWAY Reporters Ann McAdams, Kevin Wuzzardo and Joe Mauceri contributed to this story.
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