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Carrington's history was no mystery

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Sen. John Carrington of Raleigh got off easy this month when he was indicted for illegally shipping law enforcement equipment to China. The criminal charge accused Carrington of shipping fingerprint powder, ink and other fingerprint technology to China in violation of a federal law that prohibits exporting to nations with known human rights abuses. But the charge barely scrapes the surface of Carrington's dealings with the world's tyrants.

In 1996, an Independent investigation by Steve Schewel revealed that Carrington's company, Sirchie Finger Print Laboratories, sold equipment to some of the most repressive governments and brutal security forces in the world. Sirchie supplied South Africa's apartheid police during the 1960s and '70s. In 1985, Sirchie shipped equipment to Saddam Hussein's security police. And the company tried to do business with Gen. Augusto Pinochet Ugarte, the Chilean dictator, and the Indonesian state police, infamous for its repression of East Timor, but was stopped by the U.S. government because of both regimes' record of human rights abuses.

"I don't want the public to have an idea that John shipped some kind of amazing, dangerous technology to China," Carrington's lawyer, Wade Smith, told The N&O. Carrington would have you believe that exporting police equipment helps foreign governments fight crime, but the countries and security forces to which he shipped the equipment were widely known for violently repressing democratic movements. And all the equipment he sold was not as innocuous as fingerprint powder; he also sold shock batons to several foreign police forces. "We're maintaining the infrastructure of democracy," then-executive vice president Jim Gocke told the Independent in 1996. "That's what we do when we supply police forces."

Carrington used the profits from those deals to finance his campaigns for political office in North Carolina. He spent $1.7 million of his personal fortune in four unsuccessful tries for state and federal office before he finally spent $130,000 to win a state Senate seat in 1994, a position he held for five terms. The oft-described mystery candidate was able to keep a low profile because he used his money to buy media advertising instead of doing political fund-raising and making public appearances.

The indictment chips at the opaque bubble that surrounded Carrington for so long. Now Carrington faces a fine of about $800,000 and possible prison time in addition to the $400,000 fine he paid to settle other charges out of court. It doesn't make up for his past dealings, but it's a start.

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