Local Politics

Missing e-mails on Easley hiring can't be recovered

Posted July 10, 2009

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— A data-recovery firm cannot retrieve some messages from the personal e-mail account of former North Carolina State University Chancellor James Oblinger, a university lawyer told federal investigators Friday.

Meanwhile, a federal grand jury investigating the dealings former Gov. Mike Easley had with friends and contributors while in office now wants to look at communications between the state Division of Motor Vehicles and several Easley aides and supporters.

N.C. State turned over four more batches of documents Friday to the grand jury, which in May subpoenaed all university records regarding N.C. State's hiring and promotion of Easley's wife, Mary Easley.

University officials said last month that no e-mails before June 11, 2005, could be found in an account Oblinger used for high-priority communications. The account was opened in January 2005 when Oblinger took over as chancellor, and Oblinger was the only person who could access it.

Mary Easley officially joined N.C. State in July 2005, but previous e-mails released by the university show extensive negotiations between Oblinger, former Provost Larry Nielsen, former Board of Trustees Chairman McQueen Campbell, other university officials and the Easleys during the months preceding her hire.

In a letter to federal prosecutors John Bruce and Dennis Duffy, N.C. State attorney Stephen Smith said Risk Management Associates, the data-recovery firm hired by the university to retrieve the missing e-mails, had restored as many messages as it could but couldn't locate some.

Risk Management Associates told university officials that all of the e-mails had been deleted before Sept. 3, 2005, Smith said.

N.C. State didn't have a formal policy in 2005 for retaining e-mails, Interim Chancellor Jim Woodward said previously, adding that he didn't believe Oblinger deleted information about Mary Easley's hiring.

Mary Easley was hired as executive-in-residence and senior lecturer at N.C. State, and she developed the Millennium Seminars speakers program and taught a graduate course in public administration and courses in the Administrative Officers Management Program, which provides leadership training to law enforcement officers.

Last year, she received an 88 percent raise, to $170,000 a year. N.C. State officials defended the raise at the time, saying she had taken on additional duties, such as directing pre-law services at the university and serving as a liaison to area law firms and law schools at other universities as she developed a dual degree program.

Oblinger, Nielsen and Campbell, a close friend of Mike Easley and contributor to his campaigns, have resigned in the past two months over questions about their roles in her hiring. All have denied wrongdoing.

N.C. State officials terminated her contract on June 8, citing state budget cuts. She has appealed the move.

The documents turned over to the grand jury on Friday include e-mails from this year, contracts Mary Easley put together for her programs and 834 pages from N.C. State's internal auditor that have been completely redacted.

DMV records subpoenaed

Campbell also appears to be at the center of a subpoena issued last week to DMV officials.

The subpoena asks for all communications since the beginning of 2000 between the DMV and the Easleys, Campbell, his father and brother, Mike Easley's campaign committee, political contributors Nick Garrett and Michael Hayden and Easley aides Cari Boyce, Dan Gerlach, Franklin Freeman, John Merritt and Ruffin Poole.

The grand jury also wants to look at documents connected to vehicle inspection stations or license plate offices owned by any of the people named in the subpoena and documents related to the dismissal of citations against an inspection station owned by McQueen Campbell.

McQueen Campbell couldn't be reached Friday for comment.

In addition to the DMV subpoena and his N.C. State connection, he is tied to two other issues the grand jury is investigating.

He brokered a real estate deal at a waterfront development in Carteret County in which the Easley's purchased a lot at a below-market price. Also, The News & Observer newspaper has reported that he flew the former governor on his private plane, but the flights were never disclosed on campaign-finance reports.

State laws limit contributions from individuals to $4,000 per candidate in a single election, and the value of the plane trips would likely have exceeded that limit.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • djofraleigh Jul 10, 2009

    If the emails had been found, and proved the Easleys innocent would have been great, but now, I say they need some jail time if convicted. Arrogance alone should add a year to the sentence.

  • FairPlay Jul 10, 2009

    Someone was paid to wipe the cpu drive clean!!! mmmmmmm Easley money?

  • affirmativediversity Jul 10, 2009

    Did no one have any correspondence with Easley's LEGAL COUNSEL...you know, the guy Kay Hagan just nominated to a BIG FEDERAL JUDICIAL POST?????

    How much do you want to bet THOSE ARE SOME OF THE EMAILS MISSING?

  • atozca Jul 10, 2009

    Interim Chancellor Jim Woodward said previously, adding that he didn't believe Oblinger deleted information about Mary Easley's hiring.

    why does he believe that Oblinger didn't delete any emails regarding her hiring?

  • SaveEnergyMan Jul 10, 2009

    Folks, it all depends on the type of e-mail used and when it was deleted. IMAP e-mail (which NCSU uses now) keeps a copy on the server and on the local computer, which both can be erased. POP (which NCSU used until a few years ago) keeps all of the e-mail on the local computer only. The local e-mail is simply part of a file that is modified when the e-mail is erased. The disk sectors that contained the message may then be marked empty - even though the data is still there. These can be recovered easily. However, if the computer writes new info into that sector, particularly over the course of several years, then the data is gone.

    This is how sophisticated erasers work, they write over these sectors with random data several times. The question is when were the messages deleted. Recent erasures can be recovered. Past erasures maybe. I don't know what happens to the e-mail stored on the NCSU server and how long backups are kept.

  • james27613 Jul 10, 2009

    I hope Mrs. E takes NCSU to court so all the dirty little secrets will be presented in open court instead of behind closed doors.

  • anti-Hans Jul 10, 2009

    How do they know there are emails they cannot recover? It sounds like some were recovered but some were not. But if you cannot retrieve them, did they ever exist? You cannot prove they existed if you cannot find them.....therefore there never were any. The Weasleys are innocent and all you are just trying to bring down the good Gov and wife.

    This is just too funny - again, reading the context it seems like some were retrieved and some were not. THIS FACT MEANS SOMEONE DELIBERATELY CHOSE WHICH EMAILS TO ERASE FOREVER, maybe like the ones that they KNEW were incriminating.

  • SaltlifeLady Jul 10, 2009

    We all know even when you erase or delete emails, they don't REALLY get deleted unless you have someone who knows what they are doing. They do have all those computer engineering majors over there.

  • ncblue2 Jul 10, 2009

    Who cares! In these troubling times, we can't afford to find out if they are crooks! We know they are so move on!


    NO ! Move the crooks to jail !!!!!!!!!!!!


    The technicians at NCSU did a great job wiping the e-mail so that nobody could find the deleted e-mails in question.

    This is looking more and more like an organized effort at Obstruction of Justice in the Mary Easley hiring scandal.



    Wonder, who will be in jail for this ?

  • groovyguru Jul 10, 2009

    "How many of you private industry cronies are still working on a computer system that is 4 to 5 yrs old? Or better yet have e-mails saved from that long ago? People please think before you throw stones!!!"

    Many use some kind of file back-up system that runs nightly, or even off-site back-up if they can afford it.