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Powerful legislator pleads guilty to federal charges, resigns

By | August 22, 2020
Harnett County lawmaker steps down ahead of announcement from federal prosecutors.
Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett
N.C. Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, looks on as the General Assembly’s redistricting committee works on new congressional maps in November. Kirk Ross / Carolina Public Press

Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, one of the most influential members of the N.C. General Assembly, accepted a federal plea deal to multiple financial charges, federal prosecutors announced Thursday.

The most serious charge to which Lewis admitted was making false statements to a bank, a felony. He also admitted to a misdemeanor charge for failing to file a 2018 tax return.

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He apparently diverted campaign contributions to his personal business interests. Although he later repaid the funds, this sort of temporary use of the funds is not allowed.

Lewis faces up to six months in prison but may only receive probation. That will be up to a federal judge.

However, Lewis’ career in the legislature is over, as he resigned his seat just ahead of the prosecutors’ announcement on Thursday. In a brief letter, he announced his immediate resignation and thanked the people of Harnett County, whom he has represented for more than 17 years.

Lewis issued a statement of contrition: “These are my mistakes and my mistakes alone. I am very sorry for these mistakes, and I apologize.”

Lewis apparently used the funds to support a farming operation he owns. “I was raised on a farm, and I’ve been a farmer all my life,” he said. “But farming has been tough for me for the past six years in a row, and the financial stress I’ve been under has been tremendous.”

He added, however, that “it does not excuse my mistakes.”

Lewis was tied to several major and controversial actions of the legislature in recent years, especially as head of the Rules Committee and the committee that oversaw redistricting plans, several of which were later rejected by the courts.

N.C. Rep. Graig Meyer, D-Orange, campaign co-chair for N.C. House Democrats, issued a statement noting Lewis’ role as a right hand to Republican House Speak Tim Moore, R-Cleveland.

“North Carolinians cannot trust Speaker Moore and House Republicans to legislate in the people’s best interest when key members of the team put their own personal interests first and foremost,” Meyer said.

Like all legislative seats, Lewis’ was up for re-election this year. He had initially campaigned for re-election but then withdrew from the race last month, saying he wanted to “focus my energies in new directions.”

It’s not clear whether he knew he might be headed to federal prison at that time.

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