Tuesday, May 27, 2008

U.S. Attorney on the hot spot

Watching U.S. District Judge Terry Boyle interrogate U.S. Justice Department prosecutors, you sometimes forget who's the defendant. So it was this morning at the federal courthouse in Raleigh when a former state official, Boyce Hudson, entered a guilty plea in an extorion and money-laundering case where prosecutors say an ethanol company arranged to bribe him in order to get a quick air permit for its operations.
Hudson was the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources's legislative lobbyist to the General Assembly in 2004. In the agreement he admitted to seeking a bribe of $100,000 and payments totaling $96,000 to be paid after he retired in exchange for helping Agri-Ethanol get a quick air permit. The company got the permit 29 days after it applied -- a fast result in a process that can take up to two years.
(Wednesday update: The Department of Environment and Natural Resources says that's not quite so. The air permit referenced must by decided upon within 90 days -- the period prosecutors say Hudson promised to get the permit issued within. And the average, says information officer Dianna Kees, is 30 to 35 days. Boyles' question why Agri-Ethanol needed Hudson's help is a good one.)
When assistant U.S. Attorney John Stuart Bruce was telling the court about the circumstances of the arrangement, Boyle peppered Bruce with questions about how the extortion deal worked, including such basic questions as how much money it had raised, why it would try to bribe a state official, whether that was a normal business practice and so on -- even how prosecutors got on to the arrangement.
Turned out, Bruce said, that after getting the air quality permit, the company planned to use the quick permit as evidence it would have no trouble doing business with the state and thus would be a good company to invest in because it was politically connected. Company executives told one would-be investor about how they had bought a state official -- but that potential investor called authorities to let them know that something was rotten.
Boyle was astonished at the brass of the company boasting that it had a state official in the bag, and wondered whether that was "the sort of thing you want to put into a prospectus?"
Bruce has been a prosecutor a long time and was used to Boyle's machine-gun questioning style, but he had to be on his toes to keep up with Boyle's pace. The judge was asking the next question even before Bruce had finished answering the last one.
Hudson will be sentenced in late July. He potentially could get up to 30 years for extortion and money laundering, but it is clear that he's a key figure in a federal investigation. U.S. Attorney George Holding would say only that an investigation was on-going, but it has been no secret in Raleigh for years that cut-throat competition among private investors for an ethanol operation had interested federal investigators on more than one occasion.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Jack, you've been around long enough to know that the question now consuming Raleigh is -- who was in the bag? And will they be allowed to wriggle out of it?

As ever -- follow the money.

JAT

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