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Former district attorney Rex Gore pleaded guilty Monday, Aug. 19 to misdemeanor willful neglect to discharge a duty after reaching a plea agreement during a special session of Brunswick County Superior Court.
The state’s felony conspiracy to obtain property by false pretense charge against Gore was dismissed as part of the agreement.
Judge W. Robert Bell handed down a suspended sentence of 60 days in jail and 12 months of supervised probation and ordered Gore to pay a $5,000 fine and court costs.
Once the $5,000 fine is paid, the terms of Gore’s supervision will be transferred from supervised to unsupervised. His license to practice law in North Carolina also was suspended for six months.
Gore left the court immediately after the proceedings and made no public comment.
Gore and former assistant district attorney Elaine Kelley were indicted by a grand jury Aug. 20, 2012. Gore was charged with count of felonious conspiracy to obtain property by false pretense, while Kelley was charged with one count each of obtaining property by false pretense and felonious conspiracy to obtain property by false pretense.
According to the indictment, Gore “unlawfully, willfully, and feloniously” entered into an agreement with Kelley between May 2005 and December 2010 to submit false expense reports in order to receive monetary reimbursement for travel expenses she did not incur. Kelley subsequently was paid more than $14,000 to which she was not entitled during that time period.
The N.C. State Bureau of Investigation investigated Gore, who served as district attorney for Brunswick, Columbus and Bladen counties for nearly 20 years before being defeated by Butch Pope in the May 2010 primary election. Jon David defeated Pope in the November 2010 general election.
Gore’s authority to approve Kelley’s compensation package came into question after he left office in 2010. Kelley was an assistant district attorney and senior prosecutor with more than 20 years experience in the Bladen County office before her resignation in February 2011.
Gore issued a statement soon after he was indicted, saying he hired Kelley in the spring of 2005 to supervise prosecutions in the Bladen County unit of his office.
“Because she's going to be commuting 500-plus miles per week, I included a travel component in her compensation package. It was a choice that I felt I could make because of the broad discretion the elected District Attorney has in handling compensation issues. I had several options available,” he said.
Gore said he ultimately chose a travel-mileage plan that limited Kelley to 125 miles for commuting. He said he had no reason to doubt Kelley’s mileage claims and had no intent to overstep his authority.
Kelley pleaded guilty to misdemeanor misprision of felony in Brunswick County Superior Court on May 9 as part of a plea agreement to avoid felony charges. Misprision of a felony is failing to report knowledge of a felony to appropriate authorities.
Kelley received a 60-day suspended sentence and a year of unsupervised probation. Her law license was suspended for six months. She also had to make immediate restitution of more than $14,000 and pay court costs.
N.C. Senior Deputy Attorney General James Coman prosecuted the case against Gore.
“The most difficult thing about all of this is that we all have our responsibilities, myself included. (The Attorney General’s Office) takes no pleasure in seeing a public servant getting themselves jammed up in a situation like this. However, the public needs confidence that people in these positions will not violate their oath of office,” Coman said.
James Payne, who represented Gore along with Mike Ramos, released this statement on Gore’s behalf Monday: “In this particular case, Rex admitted a responsibility to willful neglect of a public official. Everybody knows that Rex Gore is a man of honor and integrity. What occurred here today was Rex standing up as he always has done to take responsibility.
“Everybody acknowledges that this was a mistaken belief that he had certain budgetary authority. It turns out he did not. This is not about dishonor. He is a very honorable man. He’s certainly glad to move on to the next chapter of his life. He would stress that he doesn’t want there to be an adverse repercussion or an adverse perception of anyone that works or worked in the district attorney’s office.”
David, the current district attorney, declined to comment on the case.