Former House Speaker Jim Black is being moved to a prison closer to home.
The Charlotte Observer reports that Black, a Mecklenburg County Demcrat, was en route late Friday to a federal prison in Jesup, Ga., 300 miles south of Charlotte, according to former Mecklenburg commissioners chairman Parks Helms, a friend of Black's who also served in the state House.
That's more than 200 miles closer to home than his former prison in Lewisburg, Pa.
Last month, more than 150 friends of Black - including Helms, Matthews Mayor Lee Myers and former Republican Gov. Jim Martin - wrote letters to federal prison officials asking for leniency because of the failing heath of Black, 74, and his wife.
They also wrote letters to President Barack Obama, asking that Black's sentence be commuted.
Helms said he fears nothing short of commuting Black's sentence will allow his ailing wife to see him.
Black's wife, Betty, has degenerative Lou Gehrig's disease and Helms said he feels the move doesn't get Black close enough to her.
“It doesn't matter whether it's a hundred miles or 200,” Helms said. “She's just actually got limited time. … I think a commutation now is really the only thing that can give her and probably (Black) some relief.”
UPDATE: An official at the prison in Jesup confirmed Saturday that they do have an inmate named James Black.
Read more after the jump.
Black was sentenced for accepting thousands of dollars in illegal payments while speaker of the state House.
Black has been locked up since July 2007 in Lewisburg. He's scheduled for release in 2012.
In a letter to the U.S. pardon attorney, lawyer Jim Craven of Durham cited Black's “wretched health” and said the longtime optometrist has eye problems. He said President George W. Bush rejected Black's personal request for commutation last Christmas Eve.
“Realistically … the only hope for Betty and Jim rests with you and the President,” Craven wrote.
Others said Black should pay for his crime and not receive leniency.
“Jim Black wants our compassion today, but all we ever wanted from him was honest government,” Joe Sinsheimer told The Charlotte Observer in June. He's a Raleigh consultant whose research helped lead to Black's downfall. “I would hope that federal officials reflect on the severity of his crimes - and the damage it did to our democracy - before they commute his sentence.”