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Alleged leader of Detroit Boys convicted of drug-trafficking charges

A Winston-Salem man once thought to be the leader of a drug-trafficking organization known as the Detroit Boys walked out of a courtroom after pleading guilty to drug charges and getting a suspended sentence.

In the end, Forsyth County prosecutors say they didn’t have enough evidence to prove that he was at the top of an organization known for transporting heroin from Detroit to Winston-Salem. None of the wiretaps showed him directly talking about transporting or selling illegal drugs.

Terrance Douglas Coles Sr., 59, pleaded guilty Thursday in Forsyth Superior Court to one count of attempting to traffic heroin by possession and possession with intent to sell and distribute heroin. He also admitted to an aggravating factor of conspiracy to traffic heroin.

Judge David Hall of Forsyth Superior Court gave him two consecutive suspended sentences that totaled a minimum of two years and eight months to four years and nine months in prison. Hall also placed Coles on supervised probation for four years. If he violates probation, his prison sentences could go from suspended to active. Hall said that his probation could go to unsupervised after three years if Coles doesn’t get into any more trouble and complies with the conditions of his probation.

David Freedman, one of Coles’ attorneys, said Hall seriously considered Coles’ age and the fact that Coles has not gotten into any legal trouble during the six years he was on pre-trial release. For three of those years, Coles was on house arrest.

Coles has attended barber school and spends most of his time taking care of his grandchildren, Freedman said.

But Winston-Salem police looked at Coles in a different light back in 2012. Winston-Salem police worked with state and federal law-enforcement agencies to place wiretaps on phones that Coles and four other men used. They also used confidential informants.

Investigators got permission from the N.C. Attorney General’s Office to intercept communications between the men as they made arrangements to travel to Detroit to get more heroin.

Assistant District Attorney Elisabeth Dresel said Thursday that Coles rented a car and brought it back to his home.

Several men, including Rudolph Coles Jr., drove from Winston-Salem to Detroit, met with a man named Tyrone Conyers, who was the middle man. The men gave Conyers the money and connected the men to the supplier, a man named Erie Adams, Dresel said. The men drove back to Winston-Salem within 24 hours.

And that’s when authorities stopped the car, driven by Rudolph Coles Jr., and seized 12 ounces of heroin that was hidden in the car.

Federal drug-enforcement agents in Detroit seized nearly 3 pounds of heroin and about $33,000 in Southfield, Mich., a suburb of Detroit. At least 14 people in Winston-Salem and Detroit were charged with a total of 136 felonies. Twelve homes were searched, police said.

Terrance Coles, Rudolph Coles Jr. and several other men — Dante Coles, Terrance Douglas Poindexter, the son of Terrance Coles; and Ian Harper and Christopher Wingfield — were all arrested. Rudolph Coles and Terrance Coles are brothers. Dante Coles is Terrance Coles’ nephew.

As part of the investigation, federal drug-enforcement agents in Detroit seized nearly 3 pounds of heroin and about $33,000 in Southfield, Mich., a suburb of Detroit. At least 14 people in Winston-Salem and Detroit were charged with a total of 136 felonies. Twelve homes were searched, police said.

Dresel said that several years ago, Conyers was shot to death. No one has been arrested. He would have testified if Terrance Coles’ case had gone to trial, she said. Erie Adams, the alleged heroin supplier, was convicted in federal court in Detroit. Terrance Coles was never heard on any of the wiretaps specifically talking about getting and transporting heroin, Dresel said.

It would have been a challenge to take the case to trial considering the age of the case, she said.

The only pending case locally is that of Dante Coles, who testified in the trial against Rudolph Coles Jr. Dante Coles has pleaded guilty but his sentencing has not yet been scheduled.

The N.C. Court of Appeals ordered a new trial for Rudolph Coles Jr. State prosecutors are appealing that decision with the N.C. Supreme Court.

Former IFB Solutions employee accused of sexual abusing a boy with Down syndrome was hired by Greensboro organization, boy's attorney says

A year after IFB Solutions fired a man over accusations that he sexually abused a 17-year-old boy with Down syndrome, Industries of the Blind in Greensboro hired him, an attorney for the boy said in court papers filed this month in Forsyth Superior Court.

That man, John Dorsey Caldwell, 52, of the 1400 block of Bragg Avenue in High Point, has been charged with two counts of felony crimes against nature and two counts of misdemeanor sexual battery. His case is pending in Forsyth District Court.

IFB Solutions, formerly Winston-Salem Industries for the Blind, was sued in Forsyth Superior Court in May. Andrew Fitzgerald, an attorney who represents the boy’s guardian ad litem, filed the lawsuit, which alleges that IFB Solutions failed to properly vet Caldwell, covered up the sexual abuse and didn’t notify the boy’s parents or the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County schools about the alleged abuse. The boy’s mother found out about the allegations from another IFB employee while she was shopping at a local Walmart store, according to the lawsuit. And even when the boy’s parents toured IFB’s facility, an executive didn’t tell them about the alleged abuse. The lawsuit said the officials who it claims oversaw and covered up the alleged abuse haven’t been fired.

Industries of the Blind in Greensboro and IFB Solutions are separate organizations, Laura Burrows, a spokeswoman for IFB Solutions, said Thursday. But both agencies have the same mission — employing people who are blind or visually impaired.

In court documents filed Oct. 15, Fitzgerald said IFB Solutions fired Caldwell on Nov. 7, 2017, days after a complaint about the alleged sexual abuse of the boy was filed. On Nov. 5, 2018, Industries of the Blind in Greensboro hired Caldwell. According to a checklist form for new hires, the Greensboro agency checked his references and did a background check.

Fitzgerald said that after WXII-TV aired a report about the allegations, he received a call from a former IFB employee telling him that Caldwell was working at the Greensboro agency. Fitzgerald said in court papers that it is possible that Industries of the Blind in Greensboro contacted IFB Solutions and that IFB Solutions didn’t say anything about Caldwell’s “potential danger.”

It’s also possible, Fitzgerald said, that IFB learned that Caldwell was working for the Greensboro agency and did not warn Industries of the Blind about Caldwell. It’s not likely that the Greensboro agency just didn’t check Caldwell’s references, Fitzgerald argues in court papers, or worse, that the agency did check his references, was warned by IFB and hired Caldwell anyway.

Fitzgerald also alleges that IFB’s statements to news organizations are inaccurate and misleading and fail to apologize for the alleged cover-up of the abuse.

Richard Oliver, a spokesman for Industries of the Blind in Greensboro, said agency officials have not seen the new court papers but don’t see any basis for a claim. According to Oliver and court documents, Caldwell is suspended without pay, pending the outcome of his criminal case.

Fitzgerald also alleges that the boy told human-resources officials at IFB about Caldwell’s conduct toward him in fall 2017 and IFB did nothing about it.

Burrows said in a new statement late Thursday that the company’s HR team “took immediate action that day.”

“The employee who was alleged to have been involved was immediately suspended and sent home within 30 minutes,” she said. “He was terminated and did not return to work. Our employee community includes hundreds of individuals who are blind, visually impaired or who have other disabilities. Their safety as well as the safety of individuals who visit our facilities is of utmost importance. We are disturbed by the allegations outlined in the lawsuit.”

Burrows declined to respond to specific allegations contained in the lawsuit.

IFB Solutions is portrayed in the lawsuit as an agency concerned less with what allegedly happened to the boy and more with how the allegations might affect its effort to keep a federal contract with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for making prescription eyewear.

“IFB was aware that publicity such as the revelation that a recidivist pervert was allowed to sexually assault a disabled minor at IFB would harm its chances of retaining its business with the Department,” Fitzgerald wrote in the proposed amended complaint. “As such, IFB covered up the abuse.”

Fitzgerald alleges in court papers that Caldwell had a history of sexual misconduct, including performing sexual acts on other employees in the bathroom. Caldwell also was cited for wandering into areas he was not supposed to go and for wearing an inappropriate shirt but was not terminated for those actions, the court papers said.

Caldwell was also charged with second-degree sex offense in Guilford County. He pleaded to a reduced charge of assault on a female.

Caldwell is scheduled to appear Oct. 31 in Forsyth District Court on the allegations of sexually abusing the boy. A hearing on the lawsuit is scheduled for Oct. 28.

Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce, Winston-Salem Business Inc. to merge and create unified recruitment group

The two leading civic business groups in Winston-Salem— the Chamber of Commerce and Winston-Salem Business Inc. — said Thursday that they plan to merge their operations in 2020.

The boards of directors of both groups have approved the merger, which will feature new branding, logo and market strategy. They will continue to operate separately in the interim.

The chairmen of the groups said a joint transition committee will determine the leadership and governance structure with the goal of submitting a proposal by mid-April.

Bob Leak Jr. has served as the president Winston-Salem Business since its foundation in October 1989 when it spun off from the chamber. Mark Owens has been the chamber’s president and chief executive since December 2017.

Both Leak and Owens said they support the initiative, with Leak saying he has no plans to retire and “remains in it for the long haul.”

“It’s a good time to redefine economic development,” Leak said. “Every community needs to reassess itself, and this one is going through some changes.”

Those changes include the planned move of BB&T Corp.’s headquarters from Winston-Salem to Charlotte as part of acquiring SunTrust Banks Inc.

The chamber traditionally has handled economic-development efforts for established businesses in the community, while Winston-Salem Business has been charged with recruitment efforts.

The chairmen said they believe the consolidation “will shape the future of economic development and job growth in the county through a unified vision and coordinated efforts that will give companies and site selectors considering a relocation or expansion a clear path and a single point of contact.”

The chamber began a new branding initiative in January that included a flaglike logo, revamped website, an abstract collage of shapes and a tagline. Their common theme is “Together.”

Mayor Allen Joines said that “these two organizations have been together in the past and separated for various reasons.”

“I do believe that having a single voice for recruitment and retention will be helpful,” Joines said. “Both organizations are doing a very good job, and I think coming together they can even be greater.”

Cantey Alexander, the chairman of Winston-Salem Business and BB&T’s Triad regional president, said “one group is not taking over the other.”

Alexander said the merger represents “a bold, yet pragmatic, move that we believe will drive economic success for Forsyth County for years to come.”

“We want to take emotion and politics out of (economic development) and devise the best strategies for job creation and retention for the community,” he said.

Winston-Salem Business has three employees, the chamber 14. Alexander said no job cuts are planned.

“The combined budget will be larger, but we don’t know how much larger,” he said.

Winston-Salem Business is dependent on funding from 50 investors, while the chamber receives dues and contributions from about 1,100 members, including the city of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County.

County commissioners allocated $50,000 to each group in the 2019-20 budget. The city gave Winston-Salem Business $85,000.

Jeff Lindsay, the chamber’s chairman for 2019 and the chief operating officer of Novant Health Inc., said part of the merger initiative is to identify additional revenue sources over what could be a five-year period.

The combined group will “assume all activities and put together a financial sustainable model,” Lindsay said.

“We believe this combined group will generate tons of enthusiasm and support for our expanded efforts, which will lead to higher levels of funding,” Lindsay said.

“We are confident that this is the right strategic direction for Winston-Salem and that we can build on our mutual strengths and successes as one team,” he said.

John H. Boyd, with national site-selection firm the Boyd Co. of Princeton, N.J., said “combining the two organizations will permit a pooling of resources, enabling the marshaling together the kind of budget that successful economic development organizations need to operate and successfully compete in today’s dog-eat-dog world of business attraction.”

Zagros Madjd-Sadjadi, an economics professor at Winston-Salem State University, said the most important aspect of the merger is that “it will allow greater small local-business input on what types of companies this region should attract.”

“This could lead us to see greater agglomeration and network effects that reduce costs across the region by strengthening supply chains and attract businesses that can enhance our current capabilities in a collaborative manner with existing firms, as opposed to simply bringing competitors to the region,” Madjd-Sadjadi said.

Combining the chamber and Winston-Salem Business is similar to the economic route Greensboro and High Point officials took in recent years.

In 2015, Guilford County, Greensboro and High Point formed the Guilford County Economic Development Alliance. The Greensboro Chamber of Commerce and High Point Economic Development Corp. serve as staff to the alliance.

The chamber and Winston-Salem Business have hired international marketing consultants DCI, which worked with the Greensboro groups on their combination.

Alexander said DCI was chosen in large part because of its familiarity with the Triad and having “a lot of regional economic knowledge.”

Alexander said the plan is to collaborate with the Winston-Salem Alliance, a business-development nonprofit that wants to make Winston-Salem a center for entrepreneurial development, and the Whitaker Park Development Authority.

Joines is the president of the alliance.

“They won’t be pulled in because they have different economic roles, but we want to pull together in a common direction,” Alexander said.

Senate approves film production bill. Bill also contains controversial corporate franchise tax-rate cut

The N.C. Senate approved legislation Thursday that would reduce the state’s corporate franchise tax and make the state’s film production industry more financially attractive.

The placement of film grants into Senate Bill 578 appears to be aimed at getting Democrats on board with the controversial Republican-backed corporate franchise tax-rate cut.

The bill now goes to the state House for consideration.

The Senate approved the bill on a 31-18 vote on second reading Wednesday. The third-reading vote tally wasn’t immediately reported on the legislature’s website.

The franchise-tax proposal would reduce the tax by one-third by 2021, which opponents say will cost the state more than $1 billion in lost tax revenue.

The placement of the franchise-tax cut means the bill faces a likely veto from Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, analysts say.

However, with two Democratic senators, including Sen. Paul Lowe of Forsyth County, voting for the bill on second reading, Cooper may not have the 21 votes to sustain a veto.

Republican supporters claim franchise taxes “are essentially duplicative property taxes on business,” according to legislative online media outlet The Insider.

Supporters also claim that cutting the franchise tax will lead to more business investment and job creation — which was disputed by several Democrats during the bill debate.

“I would be amazed if Gov. Cooper signed this bill after spending so much time railing against corporate tax-rate cuts,” said Mitch Kokai, senior policy analyst for Libertarian think tank John Locke Foundation.

Cooper has cited his opposition to another phase of corporate tax-rate cuts, along with the lack of Medicaid expansion and lower educational and infrastructure spending than he prefers, as reasons for his veto of the Republican state budget June 28.

“Republican leaders are trying to claim they don’t have enough revenue to give school employees a decent raise, while at the same time they’re trying to shell out another billion dollars in corporate tax cuts,” said Gerrick Brenner, executive director of Progress NC Action.

“Either you care about public schools, or you care about lining the pockets of corporate CEOs and shareholders. You can’t have it both ways.”

SB578 takes language in the Republican state budget for the film-grants program. That bill has been stalled in the Senate since clearing the House on Sept. 11 when most Democratic members were not on the floor.

Both bills would lower the amount of money a film production company would need to spend to receive state film and entertainment grant money.

The amount would reduce expenditures from $3 million to $1.5 million for a feature film, as well as from $1 million to $500,000 for a made-for-television movie.

For a television series, the requirement drops from $1 million to $500,000 per episode. A commercial production would remain at $250,000.

No more than $7 million in grants can be provided to a feature-length film, as well as no more than $15 million for a single season of a television series, and no more than $250,000 for a commercial for theatrical or television viewing or on-line distribution.

“I’m pleased that the minimum threshold was lowered,” Rebecca Clark, executive director for the Piedmont Triad Film Commission, said in June. “Hopefully, this will enable N.C. to recruit more, smaller budget films across the entire state, including the Piedmont Triad.”

Guy Gaston, director of the N.C. Film Office, said that in the past two years, the state has seen an uptick in interest from productions that include eight projects that have had slightly more than $34 million in grant funds reserved.

Commerce official said the state has spent $50.7 million on 13 film projects, which includes a TV commercial) that have completed their post-production audit.

Eight additional projects have qualified to participate in the program, representing potential grant payouts of $34.1 million. No payments have been made since their post-production audits have not been finalized.

"We anticipate announcing a couple of new projects entering the program soon," Commerce spokesman David Rhoades said.

Senate Bill 622 contains the corporate franchise tax legislation.

The bill would reduce the franchise tax from $1.50 per $1,000 in corporations’ net assets worth to $1 per $1,000 by 2021. The Senate budget proposal reduces the tax rate to 96 cents by 2021.

SB622 was approved by a bipartisan 28-13 Senate vote on May 20. It has not been acted upon in a House Rules and Operations committee since May 22.

The Senate’s state budget proposal and SB622 contain a direct $4 million franchise-tax benefit for Reynolds American Inc.

The office of Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said North Carolina is one of 16 states with a franchise tax. Berger officials said the franchise tax “discourages in-state investment and the accumulation of assets, such as new plants or equipment.”

According to a legislative staff paper, the bill would reduce state franchise-tax revenue by $101.9 million in year one and by a combined $1.12 billion over five fiscal years. The bill also would introduce a cap of $150,000 on tax liability and eliminate the 55% of appraised value base for taxes.

“While cutting the franchise tax makes sense as public policy, it doesn’t fit with the governor’s political narrative,” Kokai said.