Lawmaker wants criminal investigation of NC House Speaker Moore. Why the DA says no.

A North Carolina state representative requested Tuesday that prosecutors investigate House Speaker Tim Moore on possible charges of embezzlement, bribery and misconduct in public office.

In response, Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman said Tuesday evening she sees no basis for a case against Moore, and added that proving any legislator has misused their office for personal benefit is difficult.

Rep. Terence Everitt, a Democrat from Wake County, told Freeman he was concerned about recent claims made by the estranged husband of a state employee in a lawsuit filed against Moore alleging that the employee felt she couldn’t end her relationship with the Republican speaker without repercussions for her job.

The husband, Scott Lassiter, filed the lawsuit in June. Moore and the employee — Jamie Liles Lassiter, the executive director of the North Carolina Conference of Clerks of Superior Court — both issued swift denials about Scott Lassiter’s allegations, although the speaker acknowledged they had had a relationship.

The suit was resolved two weeks later without either side disclosing details of the resolution, indicating a possible settlement with a nondisclosure agreement.

Freeman, a Democrat, told WRAL at the time that her office “isn’t pursuing an investigation into Scott Lassiter’s allegations against Moore.” On Tuesday afternoon, she confirmed to McClatchy she received Everitt’s letter and that similar questions had been raised before.

“There is no basis at this point based on information that I have that would warrant a criminal investigation or prosecution,” Freeman said. “I think the challenge is in all of these types of cases, in order for there to be a criminal act here there has to be some sort of a quid pro quo, so to speak, or a specific misuse of public office in a way that brings personal benefit. I think that’s very difficult to prove in a legislative setting.”

Moore, through a spokesperson, declined to comment on Everitt’s letter.

Everitt said in the letter that Jamie Liles Lassiter received more than a 50% raise in the time frame Moore said they were dating, far more than most state employees.

“We are, as public officials, entrusted as fiduciaries of the people’s money,” Everitt wrote in his letter to Freeman. “And when that money is misused for personal gain, or simply for personal sexual gratification, it is our obligation to seek the truth and hold each other accountable.

“Accordingly, I respectfully ask that your office, on behalf of the taxpayers of House District 35, Wake County and the State of North Carolina investigate this matter so we may all have trust in how our state is managed and resources are utilized.”

In late June, Scott Lassiter, an assistant principal for the Wake County school system and an elected member of the county’s soil and water conservation board, filed the lawsuit against Moore alleging that Moore broke up his marriage by having an affair in which Moore exchanged sexual favors for political ones. It also alleged a potential cover-up involving surveillance equipment planted in Lassiter’s yard.

Moore, who is divorced, said then that Liles Lassiter told him she was separated from her husband during what he described as an “on-again, off again” relationship starting in 2019 that has since ended. He said he would “vigorously defend (against the lawsuit), stand up for myself, and also look at any countersuits that we have.”

Liles Lassiter responded to the lawsuit at the time with a statement through her attorney saying that the claims “are not only false but impossible as we’ve been separated with a signed separation document for years. To be clear, I’m a strong professional woman, and the only person who has ever abused me or threatened my career was my soon to be ex-husband.”

On Monday, Liles Lassiter filed a court document saying that she and her husband did not separate until Jan. 11.

Letter to prosecutor

Moore has served a record-breaking five terms as speaker and told McClatchy he doesn’t plan to run again for House speaker.

Everitt told Freeman that he does not care about Moore’s sexual habits. But he also said he’s concerned that there is now sworn testimony that sex was being exchanged for political favors and that Liles Lassiter feared she could lose her job if she ended the relationship with Moore.

“These sworn allegations are not without basis,” Everitt wrote, referencing Lassiter’s lawsuit.

He detailed how Liles Lassiter’s salary increased by more than 50% to $122,707 while the couple was in a relationship.

And that was on top of previous increases, he said: “Indeed, just two years (before the two began dating) the annual salary of this same position was less than $64,000,” Everitt wrote. “During this same period, the average North Carolina state employee received a salary increase of just about 15%.”

Everitt added that although some will argue that a committee within the clerks’ conference determines its director’s salary, the position is funded by the General Assembly.

“My concern here is the use of public tax money for personal gain,” Everitt wrote.

Why now?

Everitt was first elected to represent District 35 in the N.C. House of Representatives in 2018 and has been reelected twice. A lawyer, he is outspoken on Twitter but less so in the General Assembly. But he told McClatchy he had been thinking of submitting this letter to Freeman for some time.

“A lot of it was just waiting for people in a better position, with a bigger soapbox and with more experience in the game to make the point,” Everitt said. “Waiting for Republicans to police their own. Waiting for leadership to police their own.”

Other top Republicans have largely stayed mum about the allegations against Moore. At least four people have hinted, if not announced, they will seek his gavel.

“The silence surrounding it means next time it’ll be OK,” Everitt said. “And that can’t be OK.”

Everitt said he’s also worried about what will happen with the next budget and whether constituents will have faith in it. Lawmakers have been in a standoff over the state’s budget for weeks.

But the budget is part of what Freeman says makes bringing a criminal charge against a legislator for a quid pro quo difficult.

“That’s not to say that you know, that it doesn’t ever occur, or that you would not in some instances be able to make that case, but I think in situations where you have an independent branch of government, who is the hiring authority in this case, and legislature that is made up of collectively nearly 200 members that have to approve a final budget, that being able to mount a case on some notion that there is a quid pro quo, this is not sufficient to do that,” Freeman said.

Everitt pointed to an article by McClatchy in which the House’s lead budget writer, Rep. Jason Saine, said Moore and Saine’s counties do better than others when it comes to the budget and that no one would be shocked that that’s how politics works. “Well, I’m going to be shocked,” Everitt said.

“We’re writing a budget right now,” Everitt said. “How much of that budget is going to pay off cronies and friends? How much of it is to ingratiate themselves? How much of it is for financial gain? How much of it is for sexual gain? We don’t know. And to think that it’s zero is foolish. It’s laughable at this point.”

Everitt said he didn’t ask any of this fellow lawmakers to sign onto the letter to Freeman, knowing that Republican leadership can be “petulant and thin-skinned.”

“There will be repercussions,” Everitt said.

“I think this is one of those things where it needs to be said but it doesn’t need to be said by everybody.”