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Former North Carolina state senator pleads guilty to fraud, tax charges

Fletcher Lee Hartsell Jr. (NC General Assembly photo)

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — A former North Carolina state senator pleaded guilty to federal fraud and tax charges Friday, according to a news release from the United States Department of Justice.

Fletcher Lee Hartsell Jr., who represented parts of Cabarrus and Union counties as a state senator from 1991 until 2016, pleaded guilty Friday before United States District Judge Thomas D. Schroeder to one count of mail fraud and two counts of filing false tax returns.

The news release said according to court documents, Hartsell engaged in a scheme to defraud and to obtain money through false pretenses by soliciting funds through the mail for the Hartsell for NC State Senator Committee, using those funds for personal goods and services not authorized under state campaign finance laws, and then misrepresenting such expenditures on filed campaign disclosure reports. Hartsell further made knowing and willful false statements in federal income tax returns filed both in his personal capacity and on behalf of a corporation he co-managed.

“Transparency, honesty, and integrity on the part of elected officials allow citizens to make informed decisions about their campaign contributions and at the ballot box. This case should serve as a reminder that those occupying positions of public trust will be held accountable under the same criminal laws as their constituents,” Acting United States Attorney Sandra Hairston said.

“By authorizing and directing campaign funds to pay for personal items and services, Hartsell caused false partnership and individual income tax returns to be filed,” said Michael C. Daniels, IRS-CI’s acting special agent in charge. “IRS-CI helps ensure that everyone, including public officials, comply with the same tax obligations as the citizens they serve.”

“Senator Fletcher Hartsell degraded our country’s democratic process by spending campaign money as if it were from his own personal piggy bank. Hartsell paid for basic expenses including haircuts and lawn care with money that belonged to the American people. The FBI will work tirelessly to ensure any elected official who abuses their power is held accountable for their wrongdoing,” said John Strong, special agent-in-charge of the FBI in North Carolina.

Hartsell faces a maximum penalty of 20 years confinement and a fine of up to $250,000. Sentencing is scheduled for May 16, 2017, in Winston-Salem.

The investigation is being handled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigations with assistance from the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney JoAnna G. McFadden.