WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) — A former North Carolina lawmaker accused of misusing more than $200,000 in campaign funds on vacations, speeding tickets, haircuts and other items was sentenced Tuesday to eight months in prison after pleading guilty to three charges in the case.
Former longtime state Sen. Fletcher Hartsell was sentenced at the end of hearing that lasted more than an hour in a federal courtroom in Winston-Salem. Much of the hearing focused on arguments made on behalf of the 70-year-old Hartsell about how much time he would serve behind bars.
Hartsell faced a maximum sentence of 20 years, but defense attorney Rick Glaser cited Hartsell's record of service to the community as he argued for probation. He began by asking family members and supporters of Hartsell to stand. About a dozen family members, including his wife, Tana, and approximately 30 other supporters stood.
"He spent his life repairing the world," Glaser said, drawing from a Hebrew phrase. "He spent his life trying to make the world a better place."
Glaser made references to Hartsell's various mission trips, six of which were to Guatemala, and his work to save jobs at the former Pillowtex plant. That service shouldn't make a difference, Assistant U.S. Attorney Joanna McFadden said.
Probation, McFadden said, "does not promote respect for the law."
"The sentence should deter others who consider committing these crimes," she said.
Judge Thomas D. Schroeder then gave Hartsell a chance to speak. Dressed on a charcoal gray suit with a red tie, Hartsell stood between his defense team and said "I acknowledge my responsibility for the action taken.
"I simply accept this," he said before sitting down.
Before pronouncing the sentence, Schroeder chided Hartsell for what he called "10 years of offensive conduct."
"You put a permanent stain on your career," Schroeder said. "You should be putting a capstone on your career."
After the sentence was handed down, Hartsell's wife, Tana, hugged well-wishers as they exited the courtroom. Shortly afterward, she and her husband held a long embrace between the defense and prosecution tables. Minutes later, they left the courthouse holding hands. They declined to answer questions from reporters.
Hartsell pleaded guilty in February to two tax-related counts and one count of mail fraud. As part of a plea agreement, more than 20 other counts arising from indictments last year are to be dismissed.
A document filed by prosecutors intended to lay out the plea arrangement said Hartsell used about $210,000 from his campaign committee between 2007 and 2015 "to pay for personal goods and services for his own enrichment," including vacations and theater tickets. A 2006 state law limits the use of campaign funds essentially to expenses tied to running for or holding public office — and to charity.
According to the U.S. attorney's office filing related to the plea, the ex-lawmaker from Concord told a state elections investigator that haircuts were a proper campaign expenses because he wouldn't get his hair cut were he not a legislator, while tickets to the theater performance "Jersey Boys" constituted "therapy" for him.
The State Board of Elections began investigating Hartsell's campaign expenses in early 2013, leading to a federal probe. When converting campaign funds to personal use, Hartsell failed to report the money as income on his federal tax returns, the prosecutors wrote.
Still pending for Hartsell are three felony counts in state court accusing him of filing false campaign reports. Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman said Monday that case is set for resolution Friday before a Superior Court judge.