A former Republican congressman from Concord who chaired the North Carolina GOP until this spring pleaded guilty Wednesday to lying to the FBI while the bureau investigated an alleged bribery scheme that has roiled the already scandal-plagued state party.

Robert “Robin” Hayes’ plea deal requires him to cooperate with federal prosecutors and potentially testify against three other men indicted with him in March, according to documents. Hayes, 74, was accused of participating in a plot to bribe a state insurance commissioner with $2 million toward a re-election campaign — in exchange for the removal of another official involved in the regulation of GOP donor and co-defendant Greg Lindberg’s private-equity company, according to the indictment.

Hayes initially faced three counts of making false statements as well as conspiracy and bribery, and he and his three co-defendants pleaded not guilty at first. But with Wednesday’s plea agreement, Hayes admitted to lying to federal agents in August when he said he had never talked with the insurance commissioner about “personnel or personnel problems” or about his co-defendants Lindberg, founder and chairman of the firm Eli Global, and John Gray, a consultant.

“Today was a big step forward,” Hayes attorney Kearns Davis said in a statement Wednesday. “Robin looks forward to completing this process and moving ahead.”

Hayes still faces up to six months in prison, but the plea deal could mean that he emerges from the bribery scandal with no prison time, former FBI official and Charlotte lawyer Chris Swecker told The Charlotte Observer. Plea documents say the government intends to “recommend a sentence at the low end of the applicable guideline range.”

“It’s a real astute, savvy move on (Hayes’) part,” Swecker said, according to the Observer.

The March indictment, which also names Eli Global executive John Palermo, describes a May 2018 phone call with Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey in which Hayes allegedly mentions millions pledged by Lindberg and Gray along with their desired staffing change.

“There were some personnel issues,” Hayes told Causey, according to court documents, going on to reference a woman whom “they would like to see put back into that Department to make sure that things got done that needed to get done.”

Lindberg, Gray and Palermo still face bribery and conspiracy charges, according to the Justice Department. Their trial was set to begin Nov. 18, but attorneys for Gray and Palermo have sought a delay until February to provide more prep time for what the lawyers called an “unusual and complex” case, according to the Observer. The case reportedly involves more than 2 million pages of documents.

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