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Commissioner’s failure to acknowledge youthful drug conviction from 38 years ago sparks SBI investigation

Election filing form required candidate to say whether he’d had any felonies; he said he didn’t, but he did  

An apparent oversight in his notice of candidacy from four years ago may have come back to haunt one member of Alamance County’s board of commissioners.

The Alamance News has learned that county commissioner Bill Lashley has come under scrutiny over his alleged failure to disclose a felony conviction when he filed to run for the county’s governing board in December of 2019.

The oversight in Lashley’s registration paperwork apparently concerns a felony conviction he received when he was 20-year-old undergraduate at East Carolina University.

According to the N.C. Department of Correction, a judge in Pitt County convicted Lashley of felony-level possession of a controlled substance on November 20, 1986. Lashley went on to receive a “split” sentence under the Fair Felons Act, which appears to have included a 50-day stretch at the Polk Youth Institution, a state correction facility for young males that has since been replaced by a more modern prison.

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According to the county’s board of elections, candidates for any elected office are obligated to disclose whether they’ve been convicted of a felony “anywhere in the United States” when they fill out their formal notice of candidacy. Those who answer in the affirmative must also complete a separate felony disclosure form. This form includes a disclaimer that candidates must sign to indicate they understand that “fraudulently or falsely completing” the form amounts to a Class I felony under state law.

[Story continues below elections form.]

On December 20, 2019, Lashley submitted a notice of candidacy for the Republican primary in 2020, where he planned to compete to be one of the GOP’s nominees for the county’s board of commissioners. Lashley’s completed form, which is on file at the local election’s office, shows a distinct “x” in the box marked “no” that appears below the boilerplate question about felony convictions. In addition, the county’s election staff has no record that he ever filled out the required felony disclosure form when he filed his candidacy.

In any case, Lashley went on to win a slot on the general ballot when the Republican party’s primary took place in March of 2020. The Burlington resident went on to secure one of the three seats that were available on the county’s governing board when area voters went to the polls in that year’s general election.

Although Lashley, now 58, has opted not to seek reelection this year, his campaign paperwork from four years ago appears to have raised the eyebrows of someone who wasn’t content to let bygones be bygones.

According to Alamance County’s sheriff Terry Johnson, Lashley’s apparent omission was recently brought to his attention, although he felt it prudent not to delve into the matter himself.

Because the county commissioners control my budget,” he said in an interview Wednesday, “I didn’t want my agency to do an investigation. So, I went to the D.A., who already knew about it and said he had referred it to someone to investigate.”

The Alamance News has subsequently learned that the agency now reviewing the chronology of Lashley’s failure to list his college-era felony is the State Bureau of Investigation.

Alamance County’s elections director Dawn Hurdle also informed The Alamance News that she received an inquiry about an unspecified county commissioner came into her office earlier this year.

“Nobody’s contacted us about an investigation,” Hurdle went on to acknowledge on Wednesday. “But we were told that one of the commissioners didn’t disclose a felony conviction on the notice of candidacy form. . . and I contacted the state board to see what steps we needed to take.”

Hurdle said that she notified the state board of elections that the omission in question apparently occurred in the lead-up to the 2020 election. She added that the response she received from Raleigh on March 8 clarified that her office needn’t do anything, at this juncture, about a notice of candidacy from four years ago.

“The 2020 election has been certified; the winners took office years ago; and the time for protesting the results of an election in 2020 has passed…But knowingly providing false information in response to the felony question on the notice of candidacy form could be the basis of a criminal investigation.”

As of press time on Wednesday, The Alamance News hadn’t received a response from district attorney Sean Boone about what, if anything, he has done about the discrepancy in Lashley’s campaign paperwork or whether he is, in fact, the one who asked for the SBI investigation of the matter.

 

Origins of inquiry start with former candidate

Lashley’s record with the Department of Correction is readily available to anyone with an Internet connection. Even so, it apparently took a heads up from a former candidate for the board of commissioners to bring this matter to the notice of the sheriff and other officials.

Barry Joyce, a two-time contender for the county’s governing board whose latest bid fell short in this year’s Republican primary, acknowledged that he personally alerted Johnson to the discrepancy between Lashley’s criminal record and the information he submitted to the local election office in 2019.

“I told Terry,” Joyce recalled in an interview with The Alamance News on Wednesday, “and he told me that he would notify the head of the GOP.”

“He is in the paper every other week saying that he’s a numbers guy. But all the advice he has given over these three years and all the criticisms he’s made become moot. It makes him look like a con man.

“He needs to do the right thing.  He should step down, apologize to the people of Alamance County, and admit that he made a mistake.”

– Former GOP commissioner candidate Barry Joyce

Joyce said that he didn’t previously reveal this information to Johnson because it only recently came to his attention. He added that he chose to press the issue, now, despite Lashley’s decision to forgo reelection, out of a general concern about the eroding standards of honesty among people running for office.

Joyce pointed to the scandalous career of former Congressman George Santos, who was expelled from Congress by his colleagues earlier this year, as an extreme example of what happens when politicians play fast and loose with the truth.

But even in Lashley’s case, he insists that a candidacy predicated on dishonesty will ultimately undermine the public’s trust in his actions as a commissioner – as well as the credibility of the local Republican party.

“He is in the paper every other week saying that he’s a numbers guy,” Joyce went on to explain. “But all the advice he has given over these three years and all the criticisms he’s made become moot. It makes him look like a con man.

“He needs to do the right thing,” he added. “He should step down, apologize to the people of Alamance County, and admit that he made a mistake.”

 

Lashley reluctant to respond, pending potential investigation

Meanwhile, the commissioner himself is apparently bracing himself for a potential inquiry into this issue.

In an interview on Wednesday, Lashley confirmed that he was recently alerted to the potential controversy over the discrepancy in his campaign paperwork. He nevertheless declined to discuss the matter in detail with The Alamance News so as, he said, not to imperil himself should the case come under criminal scrutiny.

“I won’t answer any questions because I’m afraid it might impact me if an investigation moves forward,” he said.

“If investigation does rear its ugly head, I’d like to keep my powder dry in case I’m called on to answer questions. But I truly would like to have an opportunity [to talk] at some point.”

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