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5 Things to Know: James ‘Smuggie’ Mitchell Cleared of Wrongdoing

...and four more stories from Jan. 1-7, 2023

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James 'Smuggie' Mitchell' applauds during a ceremony in the city council chambers
City council representative James Mitchell attends the 2022 Charlotte City Council swearing-in ceremony. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

James ‘Smuggie’ Mitchell Cleared of Wrongdoing

Mecklenburg County District Attorney Spencer Merriweather released a report on Thursday announcing that a state investigation into a potential conflict of interest involving Charlotte City Council member James “Smuggie” Mitchell found that he has broken no state law in his roles on city council and as a claimed part-owner of R.J. Leeper Construction LLC, a development firm with which the city does business.

An investigation found that Mitchell does not actually own 25% of R.J. Leeper as he has claimed, which would have put him in violation of state law for a conflict of interest. Mitchell’s 25% ownership stake would have surpassed the 10% maximum allowed by state law in order to serve on city council while the city continues working with the firm. The investigation found that his stake was taken as collateral when he failed to repay a $375,000 loan he received to buy into the company when he became president in December 2020, at which time he resigned his position on council.

James Mitchell served as president of Leeper Construction for approximately six months before he was terminated on July 2, 2021. In March 2022, Leeper Construction’s primary holding company Bright Hope Capital sent notice of foreclosure on Mitchell’s 25% interest in the firm, according to the DA’s report. Mitchell’s lawyers have questioned the validity of the foreclosure, though no civil action has yet been filed to challenge it in court. 

During Mitchell’s campaign to rejoin Charlotte City Council and after his victory in July 2022, he continuously insisted that he retained the same ownership stake that had led him to resign from the City Council in
January 2021, which led to the investigation that wrapped this week. 

Mitchell’s counsel is quoted in the report as stating that they still intend to dispute the foreclosure, though they state, “at this point and time, we are letting it stand as it is,” to potentially be revisited at a later date. Mitchell told investigators with the State Bureau of Investigations that, if he were to recover his 25% interest in the firm as a result of civil action, he would sell off enough to fall below the 10% threshold and put him in compliance with state law. 

In the meantime, according to the report, James Mitchell has indicated that he will recuse himself from any decision on council that involves Leeper Construction. 


Workers’ Rights Advocates Respond to Tragic Construction Accident

Following a tragic accident that killed three workers and injured two more at a construction site in Dilworth on Monday, the Charlotte-Metrolina Labor Council and affiliated building trades unions are calling for stronger safety standards and enforcement at worksites.

“As the investigation continues into this tragedy by the appropriate agencies, and more information is released, we want to voice our support for tools and policies that will help avoid these tragedies in the future,” read a release from the CMLC on Tuesday. “We need to make sure every job site adheres to the highest levels of safety standards, provides adequate training for every worker, and that the appropriate state agencies, including NC DOL and OSHA, have the resources necessary to ensure those standards are followed. Employers must take all necessary steps to ensure all workers can return safely to their families each night. Unfortunate incidents like this remind us how dangerous construction can be. That’s why the struggle continues to make all worksites as safe as possible.”

Advocates with the CMLC and other groups such as the Carolina Migrant Network focused first on the families affected by the accident, setting up GoFundMe crowdsourcing campaigns to help support the families of the three men who died: Jose Canaca, Jesus “Chuy” Olivares and Gilberto Fernández

“This is an unimaginable loss for three families and our community,” said CMLC president Ashley Hawkins in the release. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and our unions and building trades organizations stand by ready to assist the families and coworkers left behind in whatever way possible.”

Sebastian Feculak, state and local political coordinator with the International Association of Iron Workers’ Mid-Atlantic chapter, told Queen City Nerve that his organization and others involved with the CMLC plan to carry out their own investigation parallel to the one being done by the NC Department of Labor. Though Feculak couldn’t comment specifically on what happened Monday until more details are known, he does want there to be a stronger focus on safety and language barriers across the state, as many such accidents involve Latino workers. 

“Due to this incident, we hope that contractors across the city review their workers’ safety standards and make sure those safety rules are translated into Spanish as well for the many Spanish-speaking workers,” he said. 


Man Killed in West Charlotte, First Homicide of Year

A man was shot and killed in west Charlotte on New Year’s Day, making him the first homicide victim of the year in Charlotte.

Raymond Ntungwen was shot and killed in Charlotte on New Year’s Day. (Facebook)

Police responded to a call to assist Medic on West Tyvola Road in an area near the airport surrounded by multiple hotels and a Veterans Affairs Health Care Center at around 1:15 p.m. on Sunday and found 28-year-old Raymond Ntungwen dead from a gunshot wound. Hours after the killing, police responded to a call in University City from a 28-year-old man who wanted to turn himself in. The suspect was interviewed and eventually charged with murder. 

Raymond was an immigrant, father and rapper whose last listed address on Facebook was in Winston-Salem. 


Decarcerate Now Ends Annual Vigil at Governor’s Mansion

Decarcerate Now NC concluded its third annual Vigil for Freedom and Racial Justice at 1 p.m. on Sunday outside the NC Executive Mansion, Gov. Roy Cooper’s current home. Advocates and community leaders sent off the month-long vigil by holding a mock funeral procession and marching around the block to the governor’s mansion.

 

Throughout December, relay participants completed almost 3,000 laps around the mansion, according to a release on Sunday, one lap for every 10 people currently incarcerated in North Carolina state prisons. The advocates had spent the month demanding that Cooper use his executive authority to grant clemency, pardons, and sentence commutations to people who are currently incarcerated — especially those who are ill, the elderly, those in prison for technical violations of parole, and those who were incarcerated as children — as well as commute the death sentences of those on death row.

The movement also advocates for people who were formerly incarcerated, calling attention to the lingering impacts of the criminal legal system in communities.


Duke Energy Apologizes During NCUC Presentation

In a presentation before the North Carolina Utilities Commission on Tuesday, Duke Energy officials apologized to customers and regulators for the disruption caused by the company’s actions to institute rotating power outages on Christmas Eve. Around 500,000 customers were affected by the rolling outages, the first such measure taken by Duke.

“We are sorry for what our customers experienced,” said Julie Janson, executive vice president and CEO of Duke Energy Carolinas. “We regret not being able to provide customers as much advance notice as we would have liked, and acknowledge that the outages themselves lasted far longer than we first expected.”

Customers received no advance notice of the purposeful outages. 


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