September 29, 2017/Press

Rep. Lewis’ Sweetheart Deal for Campaign Funder Backfires, Robs Funds from Public Education

Raleigh – A towing company that received a sweetheart deal from Rep. David Lewis one day after its owner contributed to his campaign has over 200 impounded cars whose sale would have brought more than $250,000 to local school districts, a government audit found.

The shocking revelation raises serious questions about ethics violations and possible corruption from one of the top Republicans in the state.

In 2015, only a day after accepting a first-time donation of $5,000 from Martin Edwards & Associates’ owner and his “good friend” Rickie Day, House Rules Chairman and Republican Representative David Lewis snuck a provision into the technical corrections of the 2015 budget that allowed the towing company to keep its contract with the state government. The move was so questionable it prompted another Republican legislator to file an ethics complaint.

Now, an audit revealed that the company Rep. Lewis argued would perform the job “more efficiently” than the Department of Public Instruction is individually profiting at the expense of public schools, which receive a share of the revenue made when the seized vehicles are auctioned. Martin Edwards & Associates cannot account for more than 200 of the vehicles seized, valued at around $600,000, leading state auditors to wonder if the company has “inappropriately benefitted from the contract.”

Rep. Lewis put personal relationships and campaign contributions ahead of his constituents, and now North Carolina’s public schools may have lost significantly more than the $250,000 that DPI believed they could return to them had they impounded and sold the cars themselves.

“Rep. Lewis gave a sweetheart deal to his good friend and funder, and now we know the real cost – our local schools,” Said NCDP Executive Director Kimberly Reynolds. “This is a shocking ethics violation and possible corruption from one of the top Republicans in the state.”

BACKGROUND:

Audit: State contractors can’t account for 234 seized vehicles
WRAL // Travis Fain // September 28, 2017

“It’s unclear what happened to the unaccounted for vehicles. State Auditor Beth Wood’s office relied on paperwork – and the contractors’ lack of it – to make its report and forwarded the case to the state Division of Motor Vehicles License and Theft Bureau for more investigation. The contractors were supposed to split proceeds from auctioned seized vehicles with local school systems, and auditors concluded that ‘there is a risk that contractors inappropriately benefited from the contract.’”

What happened to 234 cars seized from DWI arrests, auditors want to know
N&O // Anne Blythe // September 28, 2017

“I am very suspect whenever anybody tells me that the government can perform services of this nature more efficiently than the private sector,” Lewis said in the interview.”

Ethics complaint filed over towing bill
WRAL // Mark Binker // December 11, 2015

“Rep. George Cleveland, R-Onslow, has filed an ethics complaint against fellow committee chairman Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, in a spat over whether private companies or state workers should tow cars seized from certain drunken driving offenders.”

NC Rep. Lewis took last-minute action to protect friend’s state contract
N&O // Patrick Gannon // November 17, 2015

“Lewis’ actions this year – including tucking language into a technical corrections bill that became law in the final minutes of the session – ensured that contracts for those services would continue to be bid out to the private sector when they expire next year.  Lewis’ legislative actions went against a state agency that has expressed interest in taking over the program because state officials believe they can return more money to local schools – at least $250,000 a year – according to preliminary estimates.”

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