RALEIGH -- We are learning more tonight about his relationship with former House Speaker Jim Black. Many in Raleigh are saying the fall of Jim Black was just the beginning. Now officials are looking at Black's allies. And Wilmington lawmaker Thomas Wright seems to be at the top of the list. Many believe Rep. Thomas Wright's political relationship with Jim Black began in 1999, when Black ran for speaker of the house. Political strategist Joe Sinsheimer says, "Thomas Wright did not endorse the candidate of the black caucus in that race, which was Dan Blue. Wright pealed off from that, and supported Jim Black as Speaker, and that's really how he cemented his relationship with Speaker Black." Black then rewarded Wright with appointments to several key committee positions. Another connection between Thomas Wright and the now disgraced Jim Black -- Sinsheimer says Black appropriated slush money from taxpayers to fund organizations of his choosing. Wright requested some of that money for his own pet projects. And NewsChannel 3 has learned that $50,000 went to the New Hanover Community Health Center. While this wasn't illegal, it was highly controversial, and is no longer allowed. "Critics of the practice argue, of course, that the full legislature or the department of health and human services should make those kinds of awards," says Sinsheimer. Controversy is nothing new for Thomas Wright. But this is the first time he's facing criminal accusations. He is now under investigation because of questionable campaign finance reports. And Wright could find himself in legal trouble just like his fallen ally Jim Black. Overall, lawmakers in Raleigh are saying, after the Black scandal, the Thomas Wright investigation is just another black eye for the General Assembly. North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Linda Daves issued the following statement regarding the Thomas Wright investigation, saying it "further darkens the people's realization of the 'pay-to-play' system of corruption in the general assembly under former Speaker Jim Black's reign." If Wright knowingly signed false campaign reports, he could face charges of perjury.
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