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In Lindberg Trial, Prosecutor Says 'This Was Bribery Plain And Simple'

LinkedIn/Greg Lindberg

North Carolina Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey testified Wednesday in federal court in Charlotte that he was so uncomfortable with political contributions from Durham insurance magnate Greg Lindberg that he went to the U.S. Attorney’s office in 2017, and agreed to make audio and video recordings of conversations he had with Lindberg and his two associates, John Grey and John Palermo.

Causey said Grey asked him to put in a good word for Lindberg’s company, Global Bankers Insurance Group, with the insurance commissioner in Michigan. Lindberg wanted to acquire an insurance company there.

After that, Causey said they told him the men had made a $500,000 donation to the state Republican Party, with $110,000 earmarked for Causey’s reelection campaign.

Causey then agreed to work with the FBI. Jurors heard recordings of Causey speaking with Lindberg and his associates about a plan to replace one of Causey’s deputy, Jackie Obusek, with Palermo, whom the men had hand-picked. On the recordings, Lindberg complained to Causey that Obusek was unfairly targeting his company.

Causey testified that he thought Obusek was doing a good job regulating Lindberg's businesses.

Prosecutor James Mann said the offer ultimately reached $2 million in campaign contributions if they removed the deputy. In his opening statement, he held out his left fist. That represented the $2 million, he said. His right first was to “remove the regulator.”

Mann said Palermo wrote in an email that Causey needed to “man up” – a reference the U.S. Attorney said was about removing Obusek.

But in their opening statements, defense attorneys painted a different picture. They said Causey was desperate to win reelection, and it was the insurance commissioner who was a “dishonest man” who worked to “set up” Lindberg and his associates.

They noted that Lindberg had been the largest campaign contributor to the previous insurance commissioner Wayne Goodwin, and they suggested Causey was seeking retribution. Goodwin, a Democrat, is running again for the job.

Defense attorney Brandon McCarthy said that it was Causey who asked – on tape – “What’s in it for me?” Causey also suggested that the men meet in private. 

Another defense attorney asked why the men didn’t just bribe Causey with cash instead of campaign contributions if they had nefarious intent.

“You won’t hear about money being delivered in a suitcase,” defense attorney Jack Knight said. “Wouldn’t that make it easier?”

Causey will be on the stand again Thursday. 

Lindberg, Palermo and Grey were indicted last year, along with Robin Hayes, the former chair of the state Republican Party. Hayes has pleaded guilty to charges of lying to the FBI, and is awaiting sentencing.

Go behind the headlines with WFAE political reporter Steve Harrison in his weekly newsletter, Inside Politics. Steve will provide insight about and analysis of local and statewide politics. Readers will gain an understanding of political news on the horizon and why it matters. 

While you're at it, go ahead and take a listen to our companion podcast:“Inside Politics: The RNC in Charlotte,” hosted by Steve Harrison and Lisa Worf.

Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.