Former Democratic member of the North Carolina House of Representatives and former Winston-Salem City Councilmember Derwin Montgomery was arraigned on Wednesday in a U.S. District Court in Greensboro. There he answered criminal charges of embezzlement stemming from his tenure as executive director of the Bethesda Center for the Homeless and pled not guilty.
Winston-Salem Journal legal affairs reporter Michael Hewlett was in the courtroom. He spoke with WFDD’s David Ford.
On Montgomery's defense:
Chris Clifton, one of his [Montgomery's] attorneys, issued a statement saying that Derwin Montgomery is presumed innocent, that they're going to go through a long process of reviewing all of the evidence, and then figuring out his defense. However, Derwin Montgomery made his first public statements about this at his church where he is pastor, First Calvary Baptist Church. And that service, in some brief comments before the congregation, he basically said he didn't do anything wrong. He said that everything that he did was reviewed by people who have oversight of him and that he left Bethesda in the best financial position it had ever been in its history. And he said he had receipts to prove that statement. He disagreed with certain things to have been reported. And that he was going to work with his attorney to make sure that there were certain documents provided to the U.S. Attorney's Office as they pursue their prosecution.
On unusual aspects of this criminal case:
I think there are a lot of questions that haven't been answered. We don't know yet how this investigation started. What prompted it? I do know that Linda Jackson-Barnes when I asked her, she said that neither she nor any of the other board members were aware of a criminal investigation when they announced that Montgomery was going to resign. And when Jackson-Barnes issued a news release, Bethesda said that they appreciated Montgomery's leadership and his work and that Montgomery was resigning to pursue other opportunities. This was back in January of 2021. Jackson-Barnes is an assistant to Mayor Allen Joines — chairwoman of the board of directors. She said that she stood by what she said back in January of 2021. She said she only became aware of this criminal investigation when she was contacted by a federal investigator, the FBI. So, when I asked her whether or not Montgomery had ever been suspended, or whether he had been placed on paid administrative leave, she declined to answer that question, saying that it was a personnel issue.
On possible penalties for this embezzlement charge ($26,000):
They mentioned in court that he could be facing about a year or maybe a little more than a year in prison. A lot of that depends on what his prior criminal record is. Usually, the maximum is reserved for people who have a pretty bad record. There's a long process in federal court if he’s convicted. The prosecutors will recommend a particular sentence. The defense attorneys will recommend a particular sentence that will be what they call a pre-sentence report. They’ll look into everything about this case, about Derwin Montgomery, about his background. And then the judge will ultimately decide what kind of sentence he gets if he's convicted. It's too early to tell whether or not this will go to trial or whether there will be a plea agreement. There's a scheduling order that sets a trial date as early as October 11 of this year. We'll see whether or not that actually happens.