Investigation into Charlotte City Councilmember sent to DA’s Office

James 'Smuggie' Mitchell claimed he still had ownership stake at RJ Leeper when he filed to run for Charlotte City Council.
Published: Dec. 22, 2022 at 4:59 PM EST

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - The investigation into a Charlotte City Councilmember’s potential conflict of interest has completed by the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation. Now it’s up to the District Attorney to decide if a crime is being committed.

James “Smuggie” Mitchell stepped down from Charlotte City Council in January 2021, after he was offered a position at construction firm RJ Leeper, a company that has worked on the Transit Center, Spectrum Center, Convention Center and other city projects.

That job only lasted months, and in March of 2022, Mitchell filed to run for an at-large council seat again and won. But the lingering question was whether he had a 25% ownership stake in Leeper, which WBTV asked him about when he announced his candidacy.

“I would hope the citizens would say now he’s free, now he can serve us again like he did in the past two and a half years,” Mitchell said.

“So no ownership stake or anything like that in RJ Leeper any more?” Investigative Reporter David Hodges asked.

“I still have 25 percent ownership stake for Leeper, but I don’t have the same conflicts because I’m not the CEO,” Mitchell responded.

“You don’t think that would be a conflict, that you have a financial interest in them and they do have contracts with the city?” Hodges asked.

“I think what, what I’ll always do is recuse myself if the city attorney think it’ll be a conflict,” Mitchell said.

Previous Coverage: Meck Co. DA requests investigation for new Charlotte councilman James ‘Smuggie’ Mitchell

WBTV obtained a copy of a memo from Charlotte’s City Attorney that says state statute makes it illegal for a city to conduct business with a company if a councilmember owns more than a 10 percent stake.

The crime would be attached to the councilmember, not the council or the city as a whole, but RJ Leeper representatives have claimed again and again Mitchell doesn’t own that stake in the company.

In September, District Attorney Spencer Merriweather sent in the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation to find out.

A new statement from the Merriweather’s office says, “the file has been received and is actively under review.”

In 2019, WBTV first started reporting on a taxpayer-funded trip that Mitchell took to Detroit.

Before Mitchell flew to Detroit, he was in contact with then Carolina Panthers President Tom Glick. He then forwarded that email to his former work associates at Barton Mallow, a nationwide contractor that has completed numerous sports facility construction projects.

WBTV also uncovered that Mitchell had failed to file a required statement of economic interest form for 2019 and 2020, even though he had been recused five times in 2019 from voting on council items related to his former employer JE Dunn.

Mitchell faced an ethics investigation related to our reporting, while he was cleared of wrongdoing the report recommended when questioned councilmembers should quickly and publicly disclose the facts of the potential conflict.

The District Attorney did not provide a timeline for their review of the Mitchell investigation completed by SBI. WBTV reached out to Mitchell for a comment but hasn’t received a response.

Previous Coverage: MEMO: Incoming Charlotte councilmember could face criminal questions depending on ownership stake