A former campaign aide to Gov. Bev Perdue pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of obstruction of justice Friday, in a case that the prosecutor and judge said demonstrated the corrosive effect of breaking political finance laws.
Juleigh Sitton, 50, of Morganton was fined $5,000 and restricted from engaging in political activity for a year. She cannot be employed by a political candidate, party nor campaign, nor can she receive or solicit money from them while she is on probation.
The plea agreement came as Sitton was scheduled to go on trial next week on a charge of felony obstruction of justice and a campaign law violation. Wake County Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens, echoing his remarks in December when he sentenced a major campaign fundraiser in the same case, called the efforts to hide the source of political donations foolish.
“Even though this is sheer political foolishness,” Stephens said from the bench Friday, “it still rises to the level of criminal conduct.”
Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby said campaign finance violations used to be considered minor offenses, but actually do tremendous damage to the public’s confidence in democracy.
“Like termites in a house, you don’t even see the damage until it’s already over,” Willoughby told the judge.
Sitton admitted to receiving secret payments totaling $30,000 during Perdue’s 2008 campaign. The money came from a wealthy Perdue donor and was funneled through a fundraiser’s investment bank.
The fundraiser, campaign finance director Peter Reichard, earlier pleaded to a felony obstruction charge and was fined $25,000.
Sitton quietly answered a series of questions from the judge on Friday, but offered no statement on her own behalf. Her attorney, Joseph Zeszotarski, told Stephens she accepted responsibility her her actions. He said she had been publicly embarrassed by the case, and was struggling financially because she has been unable to find work. Sitton is a lawyer but has not practiced since 2004, he said.
“I’m glad it’s over,” Sitton told reporters as she left the courtroom accompanied by family members.