March 29 - April 4, 2018 Up Front News Opinion Culture Shot in the Triad Puzzles
Candidate highlights opioid crisis, but donors tied to sweepstakes by Jordan Green The vast majority of reported donations to the campaign of Bobby Kimbrough, a Democratic candidate for sheriff in Forsyth County, come from four individuals tied to the internet sweepstakes industry, but the candidate’s signature issue is combating the opioid crisis. Bobby Kimbrough holds all the hallmarks of a dream candidate for a Democratic Party that’s looking to ride a blue wave in November that could unseat a popular Republican incumbent in the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office. Like Bill Schatzman, the current sheriff, Kimbrough is a retired federal law enforcement agent who would take office as an outsider without ties to any of the various factions within the enlisted ranks. While Schatzman first won election in 2002 as a retired FBI agent, Kimbrough retired in 2016 after a 21-year career as a special agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration. Since retiring, Kimbrough has nurtured a second career as a motivational speaker, publishing books with local author Mercedes L. Miller called Surviving the Stop: Change the Atmosphere, Change the Outcome and Beyond Midnight: Quotes and Words of Wisdom to Strengthen and Empower. Kimbrough’s public figure Facebook page is replete with inspirational sayings like, “We have a chance to shape the future today. Imagine the possibilities.” And, “Knowledge is the great emancipator. Seek it. Your freedom depends on it.” Kimbrough’s family story holds a poignant, if tragic dimension that will make him relatable to many voters in Forsyth County: His wife, Clementine, died more than 10 years ago. In an article published in Forsyth Woman on March 1 — weeks after he filed for sheriff — Kimbrough noted that his late wife’s death certificate listed the cause of death in 2005 as “methadone toxicity.” “While I was fighting the drug war, there was a war going on in my home; I had no idea the effect it was having under my own roof,” he wrote. “If I am completely honest (as with many whose families struggle the way my family has), looking back on that tragic day, all the signs were there, I just ignored them.” Kimbrough wrote that at the time of his wife’s death, “Because of my ignorance of this illness, my lack of knowledge of this addiction, I was ashamed to discuss it. So when people asked me what the cause of death was, I never told
them the truth. I would tell them my wife died from an aneurism.” Kimbrough has made addressing the opioid crisis one of four planks in his campaign platform, including creating a full-time narcotics unit in the sheriff’s office. But Kimbrough’s campaign website and social media feeds remain silent on an enforcement issue that has bedeviled North Carolina sheriffs for more than a decade: internet sweepstakes parlors. The absence of the issue from the candidate’s platform is notable because $10,000 out of $11,000 raised in total receipts in Kimbrough’s most recent campaign-finance report filed on March 6, comes from four individuals involved in the internet sweepstakes industry. For at least the past decade, the industry has operated in a legal gray area that presents challenges for local law enforcement and ample room for discretion by sheriffs. The role of sheriff’s offices in enforcement of regulations on internet sweepstakes business is illustrated by a case, Sandhill Amusements Inc. v. Sheriff of Onslow County, that reached the NC Court of Appeals. In Sandhills, the county sheriff and district attorney wrote a letter to the sweepstakes operators warning that their equipment could be seized as evidence and the owners could be charged criminally. Sandhills Amusements Inc., in turn, sued the sheriff’s office. The court of appeals affirmed a lower court ruling enjoining the sheriff’s office from taking enforcement action against the sweepstakes businesses in Onslow County. As an indication of the ambiguity surrounding the industry, a blog post on the case by the UNC School of Government has drawn two comments from police detectives in the past 12 months seeking clarification on whether establishments seeking to open in their jurisdictions are legal. Four individuals, who each put up $2,500 to finance Kimbrough’s campaign, also participated in a coordinated effort by internet sweepstakes operators to contribute to the 2012 campaigns of the three most powerful Republican politicians in the state: Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, then House Speaker Thom Tillis and future Gov. Pat McCrory. David P. Hagie of Mocksville, who is among the donors to the Kimbrough campaign, was interviewed by a State Board of Elections investigator about
efforts to coordinate contributions to the Berger, Tillis and McCrory campaigns in hopes of obtaining legislation favorable to the industry. Kimbrough could not be reached for comment for this story. His campaign manager, Cynthia E. Hagie said on Sunday that Kimbrough was traveling out of state to visit a friend who suffered a massive stroke. Cynthia Hagie, who is David Hagie’s sister, said she recruited Kimbrough to run for sheriff and solicited campaign contributions on his behalf. “Personally, I could care less about internet sweepstakes,” Cynthia Hagie said. “My family and so many friends have been impacted by opioid addiction. We recruited, begged Bobby to run for sheriff. It’s very personal for him, too. It’s very personal for me and for my brother and other people who have donated to the campaign.” David Hagie and another donor, Kim Childress, are both listed in the campaign finance report as residing at a Farmington Forsyth County Sheriff’s candidate COURTESY PHOTO Road address outside of Mocks- Bobby Kimbrough. ville, in Davie County. from David Hagie, Kim Childress and The other two donors, Richard J. Richard J. Phillips. Phillips and Mary Stone of Clemmons, Similarly, Kaplan and Payne met are identified in the report as being selfwith then-House Speaker Tillis on May employed through H&P Business. The 10. Within six days of the meeting, the company’s annual filing describes it as Tillis campaign received $60,002 from “computer intertainment.” sweepstakes donors, including $4,000 The State Board of Elections invescontributions from Hagie, Childress and tigation, which resulted in no criminal Phillips. indictments when it concluded in 2015, And on Sept. 11, Kaplan and Payne revealed the role of four prominent law met with Senate President Pro Tem firms and a massive flow of campaign Berger. Within a month, the Berger camdollars from the internet sweepstakes paign received a total of $26,000 from industry. The investigation found that sweepstakes donors, including $4,000 Harry J. Kaplan, a partner at McGuirefrom Hagie. Woods law firm, hosted a “roundtable William George, one of the donors, discussion” for clients in several induswas quoted in a 2013 Associated Press tries to meet then-candidate McCrory story as saying that Hagie collected the on Feb. 23, 2012. Among those at the checks from him and other sweepstakes meeting was Gardner Payne, an interoperators. The AP reported at the time net sweepstakes operator and former that the donors “sought a new law lobbyist at the law firm. The election that would reverse” a 2010 legislative watchdog group Democracy North ban “and legalize the games,” quoting Carolina found that within eight days, George as saying, “We didn’t give them the McCrory campaign received a total the money because we liked them. We of $32,000 from sweepstakes industry just knew they were powerful people up donors, including $4,000 contributions
One candidate for Forsyth County Sheriff is almost entirely funded by the internet sweepstakes industry.