August 11, 2003
By Damon Chappie, Roll Call Staff
A group of activists in western North Carolina wants the House ethics committee to look into allegations that Rep. Charles Taylor was aware of a number of fraudulent loans made by a thrift the North Carolina Republican controlled.
The group has gathered more than 600 signatures and hopes to collect a total of 2,500 names before sending the petition to the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, said Grant Millin, a 38-year-old self-described Democratic activist who is collecting signatures with a group calling itself the Committee to Investigate Charles Taylor.
“We’re not investigating, we don’t have the power or the authority to do that. But that’s why we’re asking Congress to look into this,” Millin said in a telephone interview.
"We know the ethics committee isn’t terribly active. It doesn’t look like the mavericks of the House are appointed to the ethics committee, but this is something that deserves their attention,” Millin said.
The allegations stem from testimony given in the recent criminal prosecution of three individuals involved with fraudulent loan schemes at Blue Ridge Savings Bank, a thrift controlled by Taylor and his wife.
Charles Cagle, a Taylor friend and campaign contributor, pleaded guilty to charges of bank fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering after borrowing $1.3 million from Blue Ridge. Lending rules limit individual loans to $500,000, but Cagle evaded that limit by forging the names of relatives and submitting false loan applications. Thomas Jones, an attorney who assisted Cagle in preparing some of the loan documents, was convicted in April.
The bank’s former president, Hayes Martin, has also entered a guilty plea in connection to the Cagle loans. Martin, who had also served as Taylor’s campaign treasurer, testified that Taylor was a “micro-manager” who oversaw the bank’s operations.
Millin cited statements made by attorneys for Jones that Taylor has never been questioned by the FBI, federal prosecutors or a grand jury about his knowledge of the fraudulent loans. His petition is also asking the House Judiciary Committee to look into whether the Justice Department has protected Taylor.
Roger France, Taylor’s chief of staff, dismissed the petition drive as “politics as usual.”
“There’s no there, there,” he said, noting that the allegations are coming from men convicted of felonies.
“This is a couple of Democratic Party activists who, having been unable to defeat Charles Taylor at the polls, are just trying another tack,” France said.
Millin said the petition is being circulated during local events such as concerts and festivals.
“We’re doing this because it’s the right thing to do. No man is above the law,” Millin said. “And we don’t want Congress to circular file our petition, we actually want something to happen.”
The House in 1997 made it virtually impossible for citizens to initiate ethics investigations when it voted to prevent outside groups from lodging formal complaints with the panel that would trigger committee action. Instead, only fellow lawmakers may formally transmit complaints, a situation that many observers believe has led to an all-but-official truce and cease-fire involving ethics complaints.
The ethics committee has authority to initiate probes on its own authority. But it has taken that step only twice since 1997, when it examined the financial dealings of former Rep. Earl Hilliard (D-Ala.) and Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.).
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