Belhaven mayor will not face charges

Published 12:23 pm Friday, October 14, 2016

There will be no charges brought against Belhaven Mayor Adam O’Neal in regards to vote-buying allegations.

District Attorney Seth Edwards announced the decision Friday morning.

According to a press release, the State Bureau of Investigation did not uncover “clear evidence” of O’Neal giving favors in exchange for votes. The allegations accused O’Neal of using town equipment to mow yards and forgiving utility bills as favors to voters.

This is the second investigation in a year launched into O’Neal for vote-buying claims.

“The North Carolina State Auditor’s Office conducted investigations into vote buying following the 2015 Belhaven Mayoral election. … The State Auditor concluded no fraud or corruption existed,” the release stated.

SBI officials confirmed the second investigation in August, requested by the District Attorney’s Office, but would not give details of it beyond stating it had to do with election-related fraud.

“Unless we have direct evidence that a candidate bought a vote, such as statements from the voter, or video or audio taped conversations, then all we have is rumor,” Edwards stated. “Prosecutions are based on facts, not rumors, and right now all we have are rumors.”

O’Neal said he thinks the investigation was another way for people to harass the Save Our Hospital campaign. Town officials and some residents have fought to reopen a hospital facility in Belhaven after Vidant Health closed Vidant Pungo Hospital in 2014 due to deficits. The Town of Belhaven has since gone head to head with Vidant and Pantego Creek LLC, which owns the hospital property.

“Vidant and their supporters are working day and night to undermine the town government and efforts to reopen our hospital,” O’Neal said. “They have no respect for election results.”

Vidant declined to comment on O’Neal’s claims.

O’Neal faced opponent Ricky Radcliffe in the November 2015 elections, and won a sixth term as mayor by a margin of 60 votes.