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Insurance bill filed, then $40,000 in donations came from Lindberg and his associates

April 10, 2019

Two years ago, a state senator filed a bill tinkering with North Carolina insurance regulations.

Two weeks later, campaign donations started rolling in from Greg Lindberg, the Durham-based insurance magnate who was indicted last month on federal bribery charges, and his associates.

Within six weeks, they had put nearly $40,000 into now former Sen. Wesley Meredith’s campaign account, 60 percent of what Meredith raised over that six-month filing period, state campaign finance records show.

Lindberg and his wife put in $10,000. That same day, the Meredith campaign logged another $11,000 in donations from executives at Lindberg companies and their wives. Two days later, another $10,000 showed up from Lou Hensley, the chief executive and president at Global Bankers Insurance Group in Durham, and his wife.

Two more Global Bankers executives gave in the coming weeks, including one living in New York City. So did two attorneys, and the wife of a third, from a Florida law firm that helped Lindberg’s companies change insurance laws there. In most cases, the donors had never donated to a North Carolina political campaign before or had donated only to former state Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin.

Several would later donate to Lt. Gov. Dan Forest. Lindberg is Forest’s biggest campaign backer, giving some $2.4 million to committees supporting the 2020 gubernatorial hopeful.

Meredith’s 2017 bill went nowhere. It sat in the Senate Rules committee and never got a formal hearing.

Senate leadership said through a spokesman Tuesday that it’s “not possible to speculate” why one bill out of hundreds didn’t move forward two years ago. Meredith, a Cumberland County Republican who lost his re-election bid last year, didn’t return messages left Monday and Tuesday with staff at his landscaping business in Fayetteville.

Meredith co-chaired the Senate’s committee on commerce and insurance, and his Senate Bill 509 was a complex piece of insurance regulation, dealing with “transaction requirements and prohibited investments for insurers,” according to the bill language. It was backed by Global Bankers Insurance Group, and Department of Insurance staff had at least one meeting on the measure with Lindberg, who owns Global Bankers and a slew of other businesses.

Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey said the department opposed the bill except for a single section dealing with mortgage investment rules. Department of Insurance General Counsel John Hoomani said DOI staff questioned the need for the bill and expected to hear back from Lindberg after the meeting, but they never did. The last contact was in late April or early May of 2017, Hoomani said.

“I don’t know why it went away,” he said.

A source familiar with those talks said that Lindberg “really couldn’t explain very well what he wanted or why he wanted it.”

Causey is a central figure in Lindberg’s federal indictment, which was unsealed last week. The commissioner recorded conversations that led to federal charges against Lindberg, two of his associates and North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes, all of whom are accused of conspiring to bribe Causey by funneling money to his re-election campaign through the state GOP, which isn’t subject to the state’s donation limits.

All four have pleaded not guilty. Through a spokesman, Lindberg declined comment for this article.

Meredith’s bill had multiple sections, including some dealing with investments that insurance companies are prohibited from making.

The Wall Street Journal, in an article published earlier this year, reported that Lindberg invested money from his insurance companies in other businesses he owned, then used some of that money to purchase homes and a yacht. The newspaper reported that his insurance companies invested in these affiliated companies far beyond industry standards that are meant to protect policy holders by making sure the companies make safe investments and have enough money to pay claims.

Lindberg has denied, through spokespeople, using company money for his own benefit.

Robert Hartwig, an associate professor in finance at the University of South Carolina and director of the school’s Center for Risk and Uncertainty Management, said this week that sections of Meredith’s bill “seem designed to make it at least somewhat easier to invest in affiliates.” One of these sections would have been retroactive to July 2015 if the language had passed, and a Global Bankers summary, given to the Department of Insurance in 2017, said the legislation would address inconsistencies in state code that resulted from legislative changes made in 2015.

Lindberg had a deal with the department under Goodwin to boost at least one of his companies’ affiliated investment levels, The Journal reported, but regulators raised questions about how much he was putting into those companies in the last year of Goodwin’s tenure, and under Causey in 2017. The issue also raised concerns for Florida regulators, The Journal reported.

Lindberg’s people also pushed insurance legislation in North Carolina last year, after he donated nearly $300,000 to a campaign account that funds House Republican campaigns, and his associates tried to donate similar amounts to a counterpart fund for Senate Republicans. DOI staff opposed important parts of that 2018 legislation, which would have changed rules governing insurance company investments. Other elements survived as part of a modernization bill backed by the agency.

Lindberg was already under federal investigation as his team worked the 2018 bill, based on the timetable laid out in the recently unsealed federal indictment. His companies had been under scrutiny from regulators in multiple states, including North Carolina, for longer still. Among other things, the indictment says he wanted Causey to fire a particularly irksome deputy insurance commissioner.

Meredith’s donors largely declined comment for this article through company spokespeople. Three of them live in Florida and have ties to Greenberg Traurig, a law firm that represented at least one of Lindberg’s companies in the state and worked to overhaul insurance regulations there in 2017 and 2018, according to an account published last month by Politico Florida.

Richard Fidei is a Greenberg Traurig attorney who focuses on “national insurance regulatory and compliance matters,” according to the firm’s website. He gave Meredith’s campaign $1,000. Stanley “Stash” Jacobs is a corporate securities attorney, according to his firm bio. He donated $500.

“Stash advises borrowers and lenders in a variety of sophisticated financing matters,” his bio states.

Autumn Karlinsky, whose husband, Fred, co-chairs Greenberg Traurig’s insurance, regulatory and transactions practice group, also gave to Meredith in 2017, and she said in a brief telephone conversation that she doesn’t remember the donations.

“And I don’t really want to speak to a reporter,” Karlinsky said. “Don’t call me again, please.”

Her husband has also declined a number of WRAL News interview requests, going back long before Lindberg was indicted.

Autumn Karlinsky donated $1,000 to Meredith’s campaign on May 9, 2017, state campaign finance records show. She donated another $1,000 on May 16, but the records show $1,000 was refunded on May 18.

Meredith’s bill had a single co-sponsor in 2017: now retired Sen. Ronald Rabin, whose campaign records don’t show any donations from Lindberg or his associates. Rabin, a Harnett County Republican, said this week that he doesn’t remember the bill well and that no one offered him anything to support it.