Mecklenburg County DA asks SBI to investigate Charlotte City Councilman

CHARLOTTE — Mecklenburg County District Attorney Spencer Merriweather is asking the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation to launch an inquiry into Councilman James Mitchell, the DA’s office confirmed.

The inquiry comes as Mitchell disputes his ownership stake in the uptown construction company RJ Leeper, which has multiple contracts with the city of Charlotte.

“Upon Councilmember James Mitchell being administered the oath of public office, I have asked for the assistance of the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation to determine whether the status of Mr. Mitchell’s ownership stake in a firm that has a contractual relationship with the City of Charlotte can be confirmed -- and whether that purported business arrangement is inconsistent with N.C.G.S. s. 14-234 (a)(1),” Merriweather said in a statement. “As with any criminal inquiry, a request for an investigation is not -- in and of itself -- a confirmation of the existence of criminal wrongdoing. In the meantime, we will not comment further while we await findings from SBI.”

In response to the inquiry, Mitchell told Channel 9 he welcomes the investigation.

“I look forward to the SBI inquiry and excited they’re doing it,” Mitchell said. “So let’s pause and let’s wait on the results.”

State law bans elected officials from owning more than 10% of a company. RJ Leeper claims Mitchell no longer has an ownership stake in the company. Mitchell disputes that, saying he maintains his 25% ownership, but will sell to get under 10%.

In interviews last week, Mitchell declined to comment on the situation, saying it is a “business issue.” Mitchell previously told Channel 9 he is pursuing litigation.

Mitchell was sworn into office last week. Prior to the swearing in ceremony, City Attorney Patrick Baker told Charlotte City Council that Mitchell would be able to be sworn in, but may be subjected to criminal penalties if he owns as much of a construction company that he claims he does.

“I am not aware of any legal authority that would prevent the incoming councilmember from being sworn in at next week’s ceremony,” Baker said. “It is up to the councilmember to determine whether taking the oath could potentially subject him (to) the criminal penalty of GS 14-234. The city would not be a party to such an action.”

RJ Leeper is currently involved with two city projects. Aviation’s TLE Project is being constructed by the Joint Venture Holder-Edison Foard-Leeper (HEFL). The total budget for the TLE Project, including design and construction, is approximately $6 million. To date, the project is about 50% complete in terms of dollars spent and paid for work in place and materials that have been procured and scheduled. According to a memo sent by Baker, Aviation does not have documentation that would show the ownership interests and delegation of responsibilities between the partners.

Charlotte Water’s Mallard Creek facility project is being constructed by the Joint Venture of PC Construction and Leeper Construction. It includes one smaller contract for about $1 million, which is already in place and approved by Council in June 2021. But a larger contract for over $7 million, approved by Council on July 11, 2022, has not yet been signed, so that portion of project is not yet active, according to a memo sent by Baker. The bid document for the project lists RJ Leeper’s interest as 20% in the joint venture with PC Construction.

Channel 9 asked the DA’s office if there was a request by someone that initiated the investigation or if the DA take it upon himself. They responded, “we would decline to comment any further at this time.”

(WATCH BELOW: City attorney: Incoming councilman can be sworn in, may face criminal penalties)