WILMINGTON -- He's a Wilmington lawmaker who's been in the spotlight for the past 12 months. Wright's campaign finances raised corruption questions last December when Raleigh political activist Joe Sinsheimer filed a complaint with the state board of elections. That complaint helped launch a criminal investigation that in the months since, has uncovered numerous allegations. If indicted Wright could face charges of obtaining property by false pretenses and bank fraud, on top of that: perjury. Critics argue Wright was influenced by special interest groups, which is why they say the veteran lawmaker tried to hide politically sensitive contributions from executives at the Hugo Neu landfill company, wanting to build a facility in Brunswick County. Sinsheimer filed the original complaint against Wright. He said, "Given the intensity of the debate about whether or not that landfill should be sited in Brunswick County, it appeared to me that Rep. Wright was in fact trying to hide these contributions from public view and in a sense, defrauded the voters in his district." Wilmington radio host Curtis Wright asked representative Wright about the contributions on the air. He said, "The specific question was: 'Have you received or accepted any campaign contributions from anyone associated with or employed by Hugo Neu or anyone associated with or employed by any of its related companies?' His response to that on the air was no." But Wright did, and waited until after the 2006 election to document them on his finance report. Sinsheimer said, "Under North Carolina law, when you sign those reports you attest that the report is complete, true, and accurate." Wright said, "He says I deliberately tried to hide them, and that's just not true." Then there's the matter of missing money. According to Board of Elections officials, Wright spent more than $200,000 of unreported campaign funds on personal expenses -- everything from food and gas, to lingerie. Elections officials also allege Wright combined his own money and campaign money into the same bank accounts to make the expenses difficult to trace. Board of Elections member Kim Strach said, "We found evidence of political contributions being deposited into each of those four accounts." Wright has been publicly criticized for pulling away as investigators closed in. Sinsheimer said, "He gave them a bank account number that seems to have been closed when they asked him for access to his bank records. And he may or may not have told them some things that haven't checked out. But clearly they've been very frustrated with the process with his cooperation." Now, 12 months later, investigators are still hot on Wright's money trail, and legal experts think it could be several more months before they decide whether to indict the state lawmaker. Wright also refused to answer a certified letter from the Board of Elections asking him to turn over his latest overdue finance report in September, so the board shut down his campaign. Since the hearing in May politicians ranging from the House speaker to the governor have all asked Wright to step down. He has refused, saying it's his constituents who should make that decision.
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