Former SEANC director: 'I am a thief'

Posted November 17, 2015
Updated November 23, 2015

— A longtime director of the State Employees Association of North Carolina pleaded guilty Tuesday to fraud charges after he used more than $570,000 of the organization's money for personal expenses.

Dana Cope was sentenced to 58 to 82 months in prison total for the two counts of obtaining property by false pretense over $100,000. He also handed SEANC a check Tuesday for $165,000 as part of his plea agreement and will participate in work-release programs to help pay off another $345,000.

"I take full responsibility for what I've done," Cope said toward the end of a two-hour court hearing. "I am truly and deeply sorry to all of the SEANC members, to the staff that I worked with and especially to my family.

"I am a thief, and I need to do what is appropriate," he said.

Cope resigned in February after 14 years in charge of SEANC when Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman asked the State Bureau of Investigation to look into spending irregularities at SEANC. The irregularities included a $19,000 check paid to a Washington, D.C., computer company that was reportedly cashed by an Apex landscaping company doing work at Cope’s Raleigh home.

SBI agent Tammy Forsythe testified Tuesday that Cope used used SEANC checks to pay for $77,000 in landscaping services, $21,400 in flying lessons and $14,000 in airfare for a family trip to China.

Forsythe also said no one at SEANC reviewed Cope's credit card statements, allowing him to list charges for shutters and screens for his home as "booklets" for the organization. Likewise, she said, a home theater system was listed on statements as "home office computer" and "office equipment," while other spending was listed as "legislative affairs" and "consulting."

Many of the hundreds of expenses Cope rang up on SEANC credit cards had no receipts attached, Forsythe said, so authorities had to contact vendors to find out what he purchased – outdoor furniture, appliances, women's clothing, a piano, food and other items.

All told, Cope paid for $457,500 in personal expenses with the credit cards and another $113,346 with SEANC checks.

Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens criticized board members and administrators of SEANC, which represents more than 50,000 state workers, for their lack of oversight.

"I find it as troubling and as shocking that it happened so easily and so brazenly," Stephens said.

"This is an age-old story of abuse of power and greed," Freeman said. "It was such a betrayal to (SEANC members)."

"He lost his way at some point," defense attorney Roger Smith Jr. said. "In my judgment, he is a good man who just did something wrong."

Mitch Leonard, who succeeded Cope as SEANC director, said the organization has implemented changes to its financial controls. Now, no check can be issued without proper documentation, a credit limit of $5,000 has been set and no credit card charges are allowed, outside of fuel and hotel expenses, unless approved by a supervisor.

"Undoubtedly, the announcement of a guilty plea from Mr. Cope is a newsworthy event in his legal case. SEANC’s focus, however, is on the important work of fulfilling our mission to advance and protect the interests of past, present and future state employees," Leonard said in a statement. "All the while, we continue to take all of the necessary steps – resulting from two independent investigations of our operations – to secure our organization from ever experiencing a breach of leadership trust again."


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  • Ray Rivera Nov 18, 2015
    user avatar

    Wait, he is going to state prison to be supervised and monitored by the very employees he actually victimized, state employees. Next his lawyer will probably petition to have him serve his prison term under house arrest as a concern for his safety.

  • Ncsu Ninetytwo Nov 18, 2015
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    Do yo know the subtle differences between Republicans and Democrats......Crazy Republicans spend 77,000 $ on lawn care..........Crazy Democrats steal 77,000 $ for lawn care.

  • baskeland Nov 18, 2015

    Looks like he does have nice landscaping if you lookup his house on google street view maps.

  • Ncsu Ninetytwo Nov 18, 2015
    user avatar

    WRAL forgot to put the D after his name.

    D-Dana Cope
    D-Meg Scott Phipps, commissioner of agriculture. Pleaded guilty to numerous charges related to awarding of a contract for the North Carolina State Fair and improper use of campaign funds.
    D-Jim Black, speaker of the N.C. House. Pleaded guilty to a corruption charge and admitted taking money from chiropractors while the General Assembly considered a bill that would affect them.
    D-Mike Easley, governor. Pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance law related to free air travel he received while in office. His attorney criticized the N&O’s coverage of several other questionable actions by Easley but never refuted it.

  • William James Nov 18, 2015
    user avatar

    SEANC is not a Union, it just pretends to be one! Next, even if pays the $350K off he is still shorting the state $60K because he stole more than what he is paying back and its going to cost $30K a year to keep the crook in prison. Next, where exactly is a convicted Felon going to do work release where he will earn enough to pay off $350K? Most Cons I know struggle to get a job paying $7.50hr, this means it would only take him 22yrs to pay it back if he doesn't eat, need cloths, housing, vehicle, and kicks his kids out of the house. When he gets out on early release in a few years I bet he will return to a nice house and car, and that $350K will be dissolved by some slick lawyer.

  • Dwight Fields Nov 18, 2015
    user avatar

    So many state employees contributing lots of money out of their check every two weeks/month only to see someone like this at the top using it for personal gain and pleasure. He did not get enough time. It is the same as stealing from each and every employee.

  • Charlie Watkins Nov 18, 2015
    user avatar

    How many times have we seen this happen in unions?

  • Jim Hinnant Nov 18, 2015
    user avatar

    So happy he apologized to his family. After all, they benefited handsomely from his criminality.

  • Jim Hinnant Nov 18, 2015
    user avatar

    This is a surprise to anyone?

  • Ray Rivera Nov 18, 2015
    user avatar

    As part of the criminal justice reform sweeping the nation, we need accountability even for those that can afford high price lawyers is a must. He can pay restitution, but only after he does his 5-7 year prison term, as is the norm with the average offender that can not afford high price lawyers.