The former chairman of North Carolina's Republican Party admitted Wednesday that he broke the law by lying to federal agents about his role in an alleged effort to bribe the state's top insurance regulator to help a major GOP donor.
Robin Hayes, 74, pleaded guilty to making a false statement in August 2018 to FBI agents conducting the bribery investigation. Hayes, a former congressman, was initially also charged with conspiracy and bribery. His plea deal included the promise that he would help prosecutors build a case against co-defendants and potentially testify against them.
Prosecutors agreed that Hayes could avoid any time behind bars, but a judge could sentence him to no more than six months in prison. The government agreed to recommend a sentence “at the low end” of that range, along with monetary penalties, prosecutors said.
“Today was a big step forward. Robin looks forward to completing this process and moving ahead,” said Kearns Davis, Hayes' lawyer. Hayes left the courthouse without speaking to reporters.
In an indictment unsealed in April, prosecutors said Hayes agreed to use the state Republican Party as a conduit for filtering $250,000 to state Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey's reelection campaign. Prosecutors said Hayes agreed to funnel the money to Causey at the request of insurance magnate Greg Lindberg and an associate. Lindberg proposed moving $250,000 through the party's coffers to Causey each quarter as part of his plan to provide the insurance regulator with $2 million in contributions for his expected 2020 reelection campaign, prosecutors said.
Hayes initially protested, saying that moving so much money would draw attention, but eventually relented during the conversation, according to the indictment.
"Whatever you all want to do, we'll do," Hayes said, according to the indictment. "Alright, I'll get 'er done."
Causey, a Republican, reported the alleged bribe attempt to federal officials and for months helped them gather evidence, prosecutors said.
Lindberg is an insurance and investment firm founder who has been among the state's top political donors in recent years, giving more than $5 million to state and federal candidates and committees since 2016. He favored Republican causes and politicians, but also gave to Democrats.
Lindberg's attorneys have asked that charges against him be dismissed, arguing in a motion last month he was using his constitutional free-speech rights to support Causey. Lindberg “simply sought a fair and reasonable regulatory examination by a competent and neutral decision-maker” for his company, his lawyers said.
Lindberg and two associates charged with conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud, bribery, and aiding and abetting are scheduled to go on trial as early as mid-November.
Hayes gave up operational duties as chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party after the charges became public. He had announced just before the indictment was unsealed that he was not seeking reelection to the post.
Hayes, an heir to a textile fortune, represented North Carolina's 8th District Congressional for a decade beginning in 1999. He was defeated by Democrat Larry Kissell in 2008.