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Wright defends himself at trial, says letter not for loan

RALEIGH (AP) -- Former Rep. Thomas Wright denies that he committed fraud by persuading a state official to write a letter about a nonexistent state grant. Wright also insists he didn't use the letter to take out a $150,000 loan. Wright is testifying in his own defense today in Wake County Superior Court. The former legislator is charged with pocketing $8,900 in corporate contributions and fraudulently obtaining the loan and could be sentenced to nearly ten year if convicted of all four felony counts. Democratic Party leaders will meet Thursday to decide who will replace Wright in the state house. The public is invited to attend. The meeting starts at seven, at the Pender County courthouse on South Dickerson Street in Burgaw.

Wright attorney suggests client being unfairly singled out

A defense attorney has suggested that former Rep. Thomas Wright has been unfairly targeted for prosecution, possibly because he is black or unpopular among leaders in the Democratic Party. Defense lawyer Doug Harris asked a lobbyist who was testifying if he knew who in the state was pushing the case against Wright. The lobbyist had testified that money given to a foundation Wright started wasn't a personal gift. Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby called an investigator from the State Board of Elections to try to counter the accusation. The witness said a probe of Wright was started because the board received a complaint about his finances. The trial is the third airing of allegations Wright pocketed $8,900 in corporate contributions and fraudulently obtained a $150,000 loan for a health care foundation he founded. The Wilmington Democrat could be sentenced to nearly 10 years in prison if convicted on the four felony counts of fraud.

Wright trial day 3: Loan, charitable donations main focus

RALEIGH -- The prosecution was still on the attack on day three of Thomas Wright's criminal trial. The former lawmaker is facing four felony fraud charges. Wednesday a loan and three charitable donations took center stage. Jurors heard testimony today from three corporate executives and a bank official -- all of whom said they gave Wright money for his non-profit health foundation. According to investigators that money, which totals more than $15,000, never made it into the foundation's bank account, but went to Wright's personal account instead. Wright's lawyer argued Wright used his own money to get the foundation off the ground and the loan and contributions went into his personal account because he was reimbursing himself. Also on the stand today was one of the SBI agents who interrogated Wright for nine hours. He said Wright admitted to putting the money into his account as repayment for travel, phone calls and other expenses he said he incurred while trying to start up the foundation. But he said Wright did not produce documentation for the expenses. Wright's attorney tried to discredit the agent, raising the fact that he dozed off during the video-taped interrogation. Jurors also heard from state Board of Elections Deputy Director Kim Strach, who detailed Wright's history of non-compliance. She testified that Wright deposited nearly $250,000 of campaign money into his personal bank account and failed to disclose more than $158,000. One of the corporate executives spoke well of Wright Wednesday, saying that he worked hard in the community to help a lot of people. Wright is expected to take the stand in his own defense, but no word on when that will happen.

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