Sep 8, 2022 - News

Election cases have languished as Wake DA investigated state AG

Illustration of a voting booth with a gavel printed on the side.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

This story was produced in partnership with Axios reporting partner WBTV.

Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman's office has yet to pursue criminal charges in several complaints that elections investigators deemed worthy of criminal prosecution, including cases of voter fraud and campaign finance violations by an influential Raleigh CEO, newly obtained records show.

Why it matters: The cases Freeman's office chooses to chase are now a hotly debated topic in legal and political circles in North Carolina.

  • By pursuing the case against Stein, Freeman has alienated herself from some members of her own party who say the move is effectively political suicide.

Driving the news: The new documents obtained by Axios and WBTV show that Freeman's office has left other cases idling, despite the fact that elections investigators asked her to prosecute them.

Catch up quick: While those cases have languished, Freeman’s office has pursued a criminal investigation into Stein — despite objections from NCSBE investigators — over a campaign ad he ran in the 2020 election.

  • Elections investigators recommended Freeman not open a case against Stein because it wasn't clear he had committed a crime and that the law Freeman's office used to investigate him may be unconstitutional.
  • Freeman's office opened the case anyway, alleging Stein violated a nearly century-old law that makes it illegal to make false statements during a political campaign. A federal appeals court halted that investigation until it considers whether the law is constitutional.

What they're saying: "As I understand it, the DA's office has invested huge amounts of time and resources investigating this like it was, you know, some Mexican cartel running drugs," former state Supreme Court Justice Robert Orr, in a reference to Stein's case, told The Assembly in a story published this week.

The other side: "It would not be accurate to suggest that we have prioritized any one of these cases over another," Freeman said in an emailed statement. "Each case is different in terms of the length and complexity of the investigation. Each of these cases is at a stage of ongoing investigation by the State Bureau of Investigation or a case has been initiated and is pending disposition."

State of play: Of the four cases the State Board of Elections has sent to Freeman's office for criminal prosecution, one is a case in which the mother of a person with special needs allegedly cast a ballot in that child's name.

  • Records provided by NCSBE show an initial complaint alleges a Wake County mother voted in her special needs child's name. The NCSBE did not provide details of who filed the complaint and would not give the name of the person alleged to have voted in the name of their child.
  • "Mother used son for double voting and for other fraud," a summary of the complaint said. "He is currently in a home for special needs. He did not sign any form or is competent enough to do so."

Two cases NCSBE referred to Freeman were campaign finance related. One involves Mako Medical CEO Chad Price, whose father claimed he made political donations in his disabled sister's name.

  • In an email to Axios, Freeman confirmed that case was referred to her office in May 2022 and she requested an SBI investigation two months later.
  • A spokesperson for Price said he was unaware of the investigation.
  • "In 2019, Mr. Price worked collaboratively with the North Carolina State Board of Elections to resolve the personal donations in question which Mr. Price agreed to forfeit," Price's legal counsel for Mark Moore said.
  • The case was first reported by The News & Observer, which found political donations to races in numerous states totaling $17,500 made under Price's sister's name. South Carolina's ethics commission also recently fined Price for violating campaign contribution laws.

The second campaign finance case NCSBE referred to Freeman in July 2021 involves a political action committee called NC Heritage, which is tied to the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Freeman said. A 2020 complaint alleged the nonprofit improperly created and financially supported the PAC and solicited contributions during meetings, The N&O reported that year.

  • Both of the campaign finance investigations are ongoing and will move to the prosecution stage when they’re complete, Freeman said.

The fourth case referred to Freeman's office in the last year is the only to have resulted in criminal charges. Tim Gunther, who won in a 2020 race for an open district judge seat and later admitted he never lived in the district he ran in, was arrested in February.

Editor's note: This story was corrected to show that none of the campaign contributions Price made under his sister’s name went to South Carolina races. They were only made in contests in North Carolina, West Virginia, Kentucky and Georgia.


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Raleigh.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Raleigh stories

No stories could be found


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Raleigh.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more