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NC civil jury decides against US Senate hopeful

RALEIGH — U.S. Senate candidate Greg Brannon gave false or misleading statements to two people as he tried to get them to invest in a now-defunct technology company, meaning he’s now liable for more than $250,000, a jury concluded on Tuesday.

Jurors deliberated over two days in the civil trial before reaching their decisions in Wake County Superior Court to single out Brannon, previously a director in Neogence Enterprises. The jury absolved ex-CEO Robert Rice of wrongdoing related to similar questions it also was asked to consider about Brannon.

Brannon, a Cary obstetrician, said he plans to appeal, but the result is unlikely to change before May, when voters choose a Republican expected to challenge Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan in the fall. Brannon is one of at least six GOP hopefuls.

The trial, which lasted a little over a week, focused on what Brannon and Rice knew about veracity of information provided to Sam Lampuri and Larry Piazza in 2010 about potential interest in the company’s technology by Verizon.

Based on the information, the lawsuit alleged, Piazza lost $150,000 and Lampuri $100,000. The expected civil judgment stemming from the verdict will say Brannon must pay them back, plus 8 percent annual interest.

“My clients are gratified that justice has been done,” Steve Epstein, the two investors’ attorney, said after the verdict.

The two investors alleged Rice and Brannon had given them misleading information that Verizon was interested in preinstalling its application on company smartphones, when in fact Verizon never said that. Epstein said the deal with Verizon was actually a potential deal with an advertising firm.

The lawsuit alleged Brannon wrote an email to Piazza in April 2010 and other existing and potential investors that the company needed $100,000 to $200,000 as soon as possible before company leaders returned to Verizon. Lampuri wrote in an affidavit that Brannon pressed him to invest in Neogence when he visited Brannon’s medical office when Lampuri’s wife got a checkup.

Epstein told the jury during closing arguments Monday that Brannon and Rice wanted to bring in money to the company only to make themselves rich.

Mike Frazier, the attorney for Brannon and Rice, said in court his clients only relayed information from the company’s salesman and they reasonably relied on what was told to them. Frazier said Brannon talked up the company to potential investors and wasn’t that connected to the company’s activities.

“I completely disagree with this verdict and feel that I was treated unfairly by the court,” Brannon said in an email statement. “I will defend my integrity and will be appealing this decision.”

Brannon, a favorite of the tea party movement, never took the stand during the trial although he attended it, keeping him on the sidelines of the U.S. Senate primary, now 11 weeks away, and putting him in headlines for apolitical reasons. He tried to take advantage of the downtime during deliberations, appearing on the national Glenn Beck radio show Tuesday morning.

Beck praised Brannon, who took verbal shots at state House Speaker Thom Tillis, another leading Senate GOP primary member backed by tea party enemy Karl Rove. Brannon also has the support of Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.

Tuesday’s verdict sheet showed jurors agreed that Brannon, in soliciting Piazza and Lampuri to pay money for a security — each received promissory notes for their investments — made a statement that “was materially false or misleading” or had the same result because facts were omitted. The jury also disagreed that Brannon didn’t know or could not have known “the untruth or omission” in his offer of the security sale.

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