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Early Release from Prison for Former N.C. House Speaker

Former Democratic House Speaker Jim Black was released early from federal prison on Monday. Black, 75, left the prison in Georgia six months early after serving time for white collar crime. His sentence for his bribery conviction was shortened after he completed a drug abuse program.

Originally, Black was scheduled to be released from prison in February 2012. However, the date was changed to April 1, 2011, by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons last spring. According to a prison spokeswoman, Black's completion of a 9-month, 500-hour drug abuse program resulted in his sentence being reduced once again.

Black pleaded guilty to accepting at least $25,000 in illegal payments. The payments came mostly from chiropractors, and the transactions took place at clubs and restaurants. He led the House for eight years before being jailed on corruption charges.

After his 2007 sentencing, a state judge ordered Black to pay a $1 million fine or serve two additional years in prison. Black paid half of the fine in cash and the other half in real estate.

Black is not the first person to shave time off of a sentence by completing a drug abuse program. Former Mecklenburg elections director Bill Culp pleaded guilty to corruption charges after he accepted bribes and kickbacks from voting machine vendors. Culp had his 30-month sentence reduced by 16 months by undergoing treatment for marijuana use, which he blamed for his bad choices.

Many were petitioning for Black's early release, as he is reportedly in poor health, and his wife has been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease. In a statement released by his attorney, Black acknowledged the difficulty he experienced being away from his family and called his time in prison "a period of great personal growth and learning."

Source: The Charlotte Observer "Former N.C. House speaker released from federal prison" 10/5/10

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