RALEIGH -- A state lawmaker and a group of Democratic political donors with ties to Gov. Beverly Perdue are poised to sell land at a handsome profit should a tire plant be lured to North Carolina with $100 million in state and local incentives, according to public records reviewed by The Associated Press.
As North Carolina's chief executive, the governor is a key decisionmaker in large incentives deals involving state money. She also helps appoint the board members of a foundation that's been asked to provide part of the tire plant's package. Perdue's campaign has received more than $52,000 from five men with an ownership stake in the Brunswick County industrial park proposed for the new plant.
The governor's son, Garrett Perdue, is also a lawyer and site-selection consultant for an influential law firm that a county official said was advising the tire company. The firm, Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, does not disclose which projects the younger Perdue works on, citing attorney-client privilege.
Perdue's spokesman stressed Thursday that the company seeking the incentives, not the governor's aides, chose the site. The North Carolina site is competing with sites in two other states. "Gov. Perdue is focused on bringing 1,300 jobs to North Carolina," said Mark Johnson, Perdue's spokesman. "She doesn't care where in the state the plant goes, who owns the land or who the company hires as its lawyer. She just wants the jobs."
The fate of the project remained uncertain Friday night. Eugene Baten, chairman of Sumter County Council in South Carolina, said the German company, Continental Tire, would locate a plant there, and that the deal would be formally announced next week. Company spokeswoman Kathryn Blackwell, though, said the company has not yet decided where it will put its new plant.
Although North Carolina officials didn't identify Continental as the company looking at the N.C. site, Democratic Rep. Dewey Hill, who said he's spoken to Commerce Secretary Keith Crisco about "Project Soccer," code-named by economic development officials, described the company seeking the incentives deal as a "tire manufacturer and distribution company from Germany." Hill's district includes part of Brunswick County.
The proposed location, the Mid-Atlantic Logistics Center, is owned by a group of investors that includes state Sen. Michael P. Walters, a Democrat from Proctorville.
A development company owned by David T. Stephenson III, a Lumberton tobacco farmer, also is listed as having a stake in the center. Stephenson is a major Democratic contributor appointed to the board of Golden LEAF, a foundation created by the state legislature to dole out hundreds of millions of dollars paid by cigarette manufacturers through a legal settlement.
Brunswick County officials have asked Golden LEAF for a grant to help fund an incentives package for the plant, according to the county's top economic development official.
The deal is expected to include tax breaks, infrastructure improvements, cash grants and a forgivable loan. It's not clear how much money the foundation might put in. The new facility has been touted as creating up to 1,500 new jobs.
A confidential document outlining the terms of the proposed deal reviewed by The Associated Press indicates that money from the incentives package would be used to buy a large portion of the 1,129-acre site for the tire plant at a price of $6,000 an acre.
Records show the investors bought the site in 2007 for $4.3 million, or about $3,800 an acre.
Stephenson, a tobacco farmer and investor, did not return a message seeking comment Thursday.
Golden LEAF president Dan Gerlach wouldn't say whether the foundation is involved in Project Soccer. But Gerlach said Stephenson came to him at a board meeting months ago and said he may have a conflict of interest if the foundation were to provide a grant for the project.
Gerlach said Stephenson asked that he not be provided any materials provided to the foundation related to Project Soccer because of his potential financial interest in the deal.
Gerlach said Stephenson has gone beyond the foundation's conflict-of-interest policy by alerting the foundation to potential problems well before they could have reached the board. A board member isn't required to put the potential conflict in writing, but Gerlach said he made a note affirming Stephenson's request.
State lawmakers, who would have to approve the incentives package, have been briefed on the possibility of a special legislative session to be held in the coming weeks to vote on it.
Walters filed a letter with the Senate clerk on Aug. 25 recusing himself from any deliberations on the deal "to avoid any potential conflict of interests or the appearance of impropriety."
He declined to comment further Thursday.
"I've recused myself from that project and that's all I have to say," Walters said.