My thoughts

by Pat Bradford
Thursday, June 23, 2011

Residents in southeastern North Carolina awoke Sunday to an extensive Wilmington Star News front page story now known as "R.C.’s Boys." The story and photographs of the boys document the bizarre relationship former state senator R.C. Soles Jr. has with boys as young as 13 years of age in his Columbus County community, specifically the town of Tabor City. At least some of these boys are also clients of Senator Soles in his criminal law practice.

Prior to this, WWAY and the Carolina Journal have aired multiple stories and interviews during the span of several years with some of these boys.

It’s a risky deal, delving into a story such as this, especially when the subject of the story is as lawyered up as Senator Soles.

The never-married Senator Soles, now in his late 70s, reportedly acknowledges relationships with the boys, to giving the boys money, thousands upon thousands of dollars at a time, and it’s widely acknowledged around Tabor City that he’s bought homes and top-end vehicles for the boys.

That doesn’t appear to be an issue. What’s at issue is why? The boys claim Senator Soles befriended them, intimidated, then seduced them, (one claims rape) and that sexual acts were followed by payments of money again and again. Denying the allegations, Senator Soles is reported as saying he was just being altruistic. Providing disadvantaged boys a hand up.

So who is telling the truth?

If the boys’ stories as reported are to be believed, and based on the sheer numbers of boys who have come forward, there’s enough credibility there to investigate whether a serial predator has committed sex crimes against the eight minor boys identified in the Star News investigation.

By all accounts, in Tabor City many residents idolize the former Senator. But others may fear him. Senator Soles (D- Brunswick, Columbus and Bladen counties) was until recently a powerhouse in Raleigh, second in command of the senate, in good with the governor and law enforcement including close friends with the D.A.

Growing up in rural Tabor City, his father,
R.C. Sr., served on the Tabor City council one or two terms and served as mayor of the town for 10 years. As senator, R.C. Jr. routinely brought home the bacon, steering jobs and dollars to his home counties.

His 40-plus-year career began in 1968 with two terms in the House followed by a switch to the Senate, the longest tenure in North Carolina legislative history. When not in Raleigh, he holds the reputation for winning big legal settlements for automobile accident victims.

The district attorney in the early 1980s for Bladen, Brunswick and Columbus counties was former governor Mike Easley. Archived newspaper accounts closely tie Easley’s successor for the position, then and now former District Attorney Rex Gore, to Senator Soles. Each made campaign donations to the other. Two of Soles’ last legislative maneuvers as he left office (both failed) were to try to push through one bill that would have bettered Mr. Gore’s state pension plan payout. The second could have split the district and paved the way for the governor to potentially nominate Mr. Gore to the district attorney position for which the voters had rejected him. 

The two names first appear together in newsprint archives in the 1980s federal investigation of corruption known as Colcor, which was short for Columbus County corruption. Thirty-four government officials were indicted, including the Brunswick County sheriff, the Shallotte and the Lake Waccamaw police chiefs, a former Columbus County commissioner, a District Court judge, a state representative, Lt. Governor Jimmy Green and R.C. Soles. Several went to prison.

Senator Soles was indicted for influence peddling, vote tampering, buying votes for district attorney candidate Rex Gore (who succeeded in his challenge to Mike Easley) and conspiracy to affect commerce by extortion.

The 1983 charges of conspiracy, vote-buying and perjury were dropped for lack of evidence, and then he was acquitted in federal court of aiding and abetting bribery.

Senator Soles has been represented by noted criminal defense lawyer Joe Cheshire V of Raleigh since (at least) his Colcor days.

But that was then, and the times are changing. We should expect that current Bladen, Brunswick and Columbus County District Attorney Jon David has no such …history.

And with his 2010 departure from Raleigh, Senator Soles’ power is fading. His decision not to run for re-election came amid an investigation into sexual molestation of one of the Tabor City boys, plus a shooting of one of the boys, who is also a client, at Soles’ home. In 2009 the allegations prompted a state investigation which is ongoing.

The stories are complicated because most, but not of all of the boys making accusations, as they aged, ended up in trouble with drugs, assorted crimes and time in prison. Despite joblessness, they drive nice cars: a Mercedes, a Corvette, a Tahoe, a red motor scooter.

When they got into legal trouble, Senator Soles is reported to have bailed them out, successfully representing them again and again. And the cash, the boys say, kept coming, not only before, but during and after jail time. As the news account goes, when the boys spoke to reporters, or police, or filed reports, the cash was cut off, and trouble erupted with Senator Soles.

For example, one unresolved event includes suspected arson of a house Senator Soles bought for one of the boys. The timing of the arson was just after the boy spoke to reporters.

The Star News research shows in the past six months, police have been called to Soles’ home and law office at least eight times for incidents involving at least three of the boys. And that, since 2007, the Tabor City Police Department has been called to Soles’ law office or home at least 39 times. In spite of the violence and vandalism, Senator Soles has never pressed charges.

Only one or two allegations stuck long enough to stay in the headlines, but the boys later recanted. One boy’s attorney now claims his client was paid off by Senator Soles to drop 2009 charges of sexual molestation.

A 2009 shooting of one of the boys on Senator Soles’ property led to a 2010 felony indictment for Senator Soles for assault with a deadly weapon and inflicting serious injury. Then D.A. Rex Gore rescued himself from the criminal investigation. Superior Court Judge D. Jack Hooks accepted a guilty plea to a reduced charge of assault with a deadly weapon and fined the senator $1,000.

It’s a sordid, messy and complicated set of sexual abuse accusations spanning decades. But they beg the question; did these crimes occur, and could one man rule over a town with so much power that he was able to prey on the community’s boys, apparently at will?

Lawyered up or not, Mr. David, all eyes are on you, the State Bureau of Investigation and the A.G.’s office.

It is time for the truth.

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