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Forsyth judge continues trial of man accused of embezzling more than $100,000. The argument: Press coverage would hurt case.

A Forsyth County judge has continued the trial of a Winston-Salem man charged with embezzling more than $100,000 from a local businessman.

The ruling came after the man’s defense attorney argued that his client, Charles Dewayne Washington, might not get a fair trial partially because of news coverage.

Washington is charged with two counts of embezzlement and one count of conspiracy. Jury selection was scheduled to begin Tuesday morning. On Monday, Judge Eric Morgan held a hearing on several pretrial motions, including one to prohibit prosecutors from introducing information about Washington’s prior conviction for embezzlement in 1989. Washington was found guilty of embezzling $6,352 from the Young Democrats of Forsyth County while he was the organization’s treasurer.

Morgan did not make a decision Monday, and on Tuesday the Winston-Salem Journal published an article about the hearing. On Tuesday, Morgan granted the motion to keep Washington’s prior conviction out of the trial.

Dan Anthony, Washington’s attorney, then made a motion to continue, citing the Winston-Salem Journal’s coverage of the case. He argued that members of the jury pool may have read the article, which included information that would never come in as evidence at trial. That would possibly make it difficult for Washington to get a fair trial, Anthony said.

Anthony said that while at a social function Tuesday morning, four different people approached him and told him that they had read about the case in the newspaper.

“The position of the defendant is that the only way to cure this is time,” Anthony said.

Morgan granted Anthony’s motion. Scott Harkey and Jordan Ford, special prosecutors for the N.C. Conference of District Attorneys, and Anthony will agree on a new trial date.

Washington is accused of stealing more than $100,000 from La Casa Real Estate and Investments LLC., a business owned by Bobby Slate. Indictments allege that Washington embezzled money over a three-year period from 2005 to 2008.

He is also accused of conspiring to embezzle money with co-defendant Rhonda Lea Byrd, 60, of Lexington.

Byrd was tried and convicted on three counts of embezzlement in April 2019. She was accused of embezzling nearly $1 million from Slate’s other businesses, Slate Retail Systems Inc. and Slate Packaging Inc. She pleaded guilty to two additional counts of embezzlement and one count of conspiracy. She is serving up to 10 years in prison.

Slate sued Byrd and Washington in federal court and alleged in court papers that the two stole a total of $3 million from his various businesses. The lawsuit alleged that Byrd started stealing first and then by 2004, Byrd and Washington started working together to open credit-card accounts and lines of credit at various financial institutions.

The lawsuit also alleged that the two used Slate’s new companies to open up additional credit-card accounts, lines of credit and loans, and then used that embezzled money to buy vacation homes in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and another home in High Meadows in the North Carolina mountains.

The lawsuit alleged that Byrd and Washington embezzled a total of $3.3 million in assets and that Slate and other plaintiffs lost $14 million in profits because certain developments could not be completed. The lawsuit was settled in 2013.

After a national search, Greensboro chooses one of its own to be next police chief

GREENSBORO — Brian L. James knows that he doesn’t fit the profile of an outsider who can be a change agent for the city’s police department.

He may be the ultimate insider.

But the veteran Greensboro officer, who was named police chief Tuesday, said he is determined to do what it takes to earn the public’s trust in an organization that has suffered withering criticism.

“What I know about law enforcement is if you’re not in a constant mode of looking to how you can get better and improve, you’re getting behind,” said James, currently a deputy chief. “You can’t come in here ... and not change anything and then look a year or two from now and say you’ve been successful.”

James, 49, will take on his new role on Feb. 1, succeeding Wayne Scott, who is retiring at the end of January. His annual salary will be $150,000.

He was selected through a four-month process that began with nearly 40 candidates.

Now that he has the job, there’s no shortage of things that demand his attention.

One top priority: looking at what can be done to stem the city’s homicide rate. Last year, there were 44 killings, tying the record set in 2017.

Another concern: He’ll have to restore public trust in a department that has come under widespread criticism for its recent treatment of African Americans and what many see as a history of malfeasance dating back 40 years to the Greensboro Massacre of 1979.

City Council Member Michelle Kennedy, who was critical of the 2015 process that culminated in Scott’s promotion, said she believes “we made a really good choice in this particular instance.”

“I truly think Brian is ready to tackle the problems of Greensboro head on and he’s the right person for the job,” Kennedy said. “I’ve known Brian. ... He’s quiet but very, very smart. He’s not afraid to say we should do something differently.”

That attitude is certain to come into play as he tries to curb the number of killings plaguing the city.

James said many of the city’s homicide victims are young people who are killed by other young people. He said the city has resources, from social-services to crime-prevention programs, that need to do a better job of identifying at-risk youth and finding ways to prevent them from resorting to violence.

“We certainly have to take a look at how we have those resources allocated,” he explained.

That does not mean, James said, flooding high-crime areas of the city with more patrol officers.

“I always say that one homicide is too many and 44 is definitely too many,” said James, who joined the department in 1996 as an officer with the Southern Patrol Division. “And we’ve got to do better than that. Greensboro is still a great community. We have had an uptick in violent crime and we need to figure (it) out.”

Many of Scott’s critics allege a decades-long pattern of police corruption in Greensboro and say that fuels a lack of trust between police and residents, especially African Americans. During the selection process, some of the most vocal residents said a new chief should come from outside the city.

Healing that mistrust begins with better communication between the police department and the community, James said.

“We’ve got to have real conversations,” he explained. “We have to literally seek out those people that say they don’t trust the police department. And I want to talk to people and find out the specific reasons why. If we can sit down and have an honest conversation about how they feel ... I think that’s a start.”

Because James grew up in Greensboro, graduating from Page High School and N.C. A&T University, many people believe he understands the city from a variety of perspectives, especially as an African American. (He also has an MBA from Pfeiffer University and is a graduate of the FBI National Academy, among other programs.)

“Anyone who’s a lifelong resident of Greensboro, particularly a black man, will have a different perspective than our current (police) chief will have and I think it’s a perspective that we desperately need in a role like this,” Kennedy said.

Mayor Nancy Vaughan said she also thinks those ties will be beneficial.

“Certainly he understands the city of Greensboro and what our issues are,” she said. “I’ve had the opportunity to be in community meetings where he was present and spoke. Just recently there was a meeting at a local church and we were talking about gun violence and he really connected with people there on a very deep level and that’s important.”

James said he believes his love of the community will help him be an effective leader.

“I think there are certainly advantages and disadvantages to being an inside chief or an outside chief,” he said. “One thing I’ll say is that having been at this department and also having been in this community, I have a number of community connections that I’ve been able to establish over a number of years.

“I certainly understand that everyone has an opinion about who they would like to be the police chief. I want to serve in this role and I want to make sure that we build a police department that the community can be proud of.”

Community activist C.J. Brinson, who has advocated for programs to curb gun violence, expressed support for James on his Facebook page Tuesday.

“When it comes to the things that concern our community around accountability, serving marginalized citizens and holistic approaches to policing,” Brinson wrote, “I think Brian James gives this community the best opportunity to gain some ground on these issues.”

As a veteran of the department, James said he didn’t necessarily set out to reach the top.

“It’s kind of a surreal feeling,” he admitted. “I can’t say that I was in the academy having dreams of being police chief.”

James takes over as the city is being sued by the family of Marcus Smith, who died 16 months ago after police restrained him by binding his hands to his feet, face down on a city street.

Marcus Hyde, founder of the Homeless Union of Greensboro, is one of the police department’s biggest critics and often points to the Smith case as an example of an agency out of control.

Hyde believes the city’s selection process stopped short of full disclosure when officials chose not to invite the community to comment after it had selected James and another candidate as finalists.

He said Tuesday that James faces the weight of the Smith case and other controversies as he seeks to mend relations with residents and change the department.

But Hyde is optimistic.

“We hope he’s serious about listening to the community and that we don’t repeat the mistakes of Chief Scott,” Hyde said. “We’re going to give him a chance, but he’s got a heavy load if he’s going to change the police department.”

Medicaid expansion still unlikely in North Carolina, Berger says

A compromise reached in conservative-leaning Kansas to expand Medicaid is not likely to influence lawmakers in North Carolina, Senate Majority leader Phil Berger said Tuesday.

Medicaid currently covers 2.2 million North Carolinians, with projections of expansion adding between 450,000 and 650,000 residents. At 2.65 million participants, that would represent 25% of the state’s population, while at 2.85 million, it would represent 26.8%.

Berger, R-Rockingham, was asked by reporters for reaction to a first-term Democratic governor and the Republican Senate majority leader in Kansas achieving an agreement that would allow it to become the 38th state — and 15th red — to expand its Medicaid program.

Berger said he did not believe Kansas would have any effect on Senate Republicans’ opposition to expanding Medicaid in North Carolina.

“My Republican colleagues have not raised Medicaid expansion to me,” saying the only groups that have since the Kansas agreement became public are media outlets.

“There are not the votes to pass Medicaid expansion (in the Senate),” Berger said. “That’s not an ultimatum, but a factual statement that it would not pass.”

The Affordable Care Act makes Medicaid available to households with incomes below 138% of the poverty line, or nearly $36,000 for a family of four.

The agreement is the third of its kind recently between a Democratic governor and Republican-controlled legislature. The others are Kentucky and Louisiana. Those bipartisan successes have raised the question of why a compromise can’t be reached in a similar scenario in North Carolina.

Berger said Senate Democrats are supporting Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of a state budget without a form of Medicaid expansion for political reasons.

“They are holding out in 2020 because they believe they will be in charge (of the legislature) in 2021, and that’s not going to happen,” Berger said.

Rep. Donny Lambeth, R-Forsyth, has expressed confidence that his Medicaid legislation, House Bill 655, has bipartisan support even with having a controversial work requirement that has been put on hold in four red states by a federal judge.

Berger acknowledged he has made passing glances at HB655, which has been stalled in the House Rules and Operations committee since September after Lambeth agreed to make a few changes and consider others requested by Democrats.

“I haven’t read the bill since it has not arrived in the Senate,” Berger said. “When it does, then we will consider whether to take it up.”

Berger’s opposition carries more weight than similar Medicaid expansion scenarios in Idaho, Missouri, Nebraska and Utah because unlike those states, North Carolina citizens do not have the ability to initiate statewide ballot referendums.

Berger and other Senate Republican leadership have been adamant opponents to expansion since it surfaced in 2012 as an option through the Affordable Care Act.

The bipartisan HB655 contains two elements key to expansion in Republican states: a work or community volunteer requirement for some recipients; and a requirement that recipients pay 2% of their monthly household income for Medicaid coverage.

Mitch Kokai, senior policy analyst for Libertarian think tank John Locke Foundation, said “the work requirements included in the Kansas package might appeal to those — especially in the N.C. House — who supported similar proposals here.”

However, he cautioned that “Senate leaders who have been uninterested in any version of Medicaid expansion are unlikely to change their minds, regardless of what happens in Kansas.”

The agreement in Kansas “makes the (seven) Southern block of states look more and more like stubborn outliers in refusing to even consider more conservative versions of Medicaid expansion,” said Mark Hall, a law and public-health professor at Wake Forest University.

Those Republican-leaning states are Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Most left-leaning advocate groups say that while they support Medicaid expansion, the work and premium requirements are too onerous overall compared with the potential benefit.

Berger and Republican leadership have stated their concern that the federal government may opt to end its 90% match on additional administrative costs for expansion. They also oppose an annual $758 million assessment that the state’s hospitals and health-care systems have agreed to provide.

Berger claims Cooper is “holding the entire budget hostage” over Medicaid expansion that he says puts “able-bodied individuals” in front of disabled individuals for funding priorities.

However, several public-health advocates, as well as Lambeth, have said the GOP warning is unfounded.

For the 36 Medicaid expansion states and the District of Columbia, the federal government has been consistent even under the Trump administration in meeting its 90% contribution.

Lambeth told a House committee in July that the 90% match is sustainable and would take an act of Congress to change.