Local Politics

Former Easley aide indicted

Posted January 21, 2010
Updated January 22, 2010

— A federal grand jury on Thursday indicted the lawyer for former Gov. Mike Easley on a slew of charges, including extortion, bribery and money laundering.

The grand jury has in recent months been investigating Easley's dealings with friends and contributors while in office.

A 51-count indictment also accuses Ruffin Poole, who was Easley's top aide and legal counsel during the governor's two terms in office, of racketeering and mail fraud and includes a notice that federal prosecutors plan to seize any property linked to criminal activity.

Mike Easley Investigation graphic Ex-Easley aide accused of extortion, fraud

"Anyone who serves in government has the trust of the people they represent, and we cannot afford to let that trust be corrupted," Owen Harris, the special agent-in-charge of the North Carolina office of the FBI, said in a statement Thursday.

Easley isn't named in the indictment, and his lawyer said late Thursday that the former governor had no knowledge of any wrongdoing by his one-time aide.

“While Governor Easley has no knowledge of the conduct that makes up the criminal allegations (in the indictment), he has faith in Ruffin Poole and finds it hard to believe that he would ever intentionally violate the law,” attorney Joe Cheshire said in a statement. “Ruffin Poole, like anyone else charged with a crime, deserves the presumption of innocence, not a rush to judgment.”

The 64-page indictment chronicles Poole's rapid rise from the state Attorney General's Office to become Easley's "go-to guy" who would help political supporters with any problems they faced with state regulators and line up appointments for them to state boards and commissions.

Easley relied so much on Poole for such work, the indictment notes, that political supporters called Poole "Little Governor."

The supporters rained gifts on Poole, from vacations in Costa Rica to a bachelor's party in New Orleans, according to the indictment. The former chairman of the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission, Doug Fox, also purchased $600 worth of liquor at a South Carolina naval base for Poole's 2005 wedding in Staunton, Va., the indictment states.

The indictment alleges Poole never reported any of the gifts on his annual financial disclosure forms to the state Ethics Commission.

During a State Board of Elections hearing in October into allegations of campaign finance violations by the Easley campaign, witnesses likewise characterized Poole as the man to see in the governor's office to resolve problems.

Witnesses testified that Poole solicited a $50,000 donation from Charlotte developer Gary Allen for the state Democratic Party in 2004 at the same time that Allen was trying to get environmental permits approved for a Brunswick County development.

In his testimony, Allen denied that there was any link between the donation and the permitting process. The permits were approved shortly after the donation was made, he said.

Poole was called as a witness during the hearing, but he convinced a Superior Court judge to block the subpoena on the grounds that his testimony could violate attorney-client privilege. The state Court of Appeals later overturned the judge's ruling and ordered him to comply with the subpoena.

He finally appeared before the elections board in December but invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to testify.

The coastal developments discussed during the elections board hearing were alluded to in the indictment, with Allen and his brother referred to as "the Charlotte developers" and Lanny Wilson, who resigned Thursday from the state Board of Transportation, referred to as "the Wilmington financier."

Wilson allowed Poole to invest $100,000 in Cannonsgate, a gated community in Carteret County that the Allens developed, in 2005, according to the indictment, and Poole made a $30,000 profit within four months.

Poole helped the developers obtain the needed permits to dredge a site for a marina, according to the indictment.

Easley later purchased a waterfront lot in Cannonsgate at a below-market price.

In 2006, Poole invested another $100,000 in Summerhouse at Everett Bay, an Onslow County development by the Allen brothers, according to the indictment. He worked with state Department of Environment and Natural Resources to get approval for a boat dock at the development, the indictment states.

Payments Poole received from his real estate investments were routed through his family's construction company, according to the indictment.

The grand jury also has been looking into Easley's travel on donors' planes, how his wife landed a high-paying job at North Carolina State University, the sale of a Southport marina to a group that included some of Easley's political contributors and decisions made by the state Division of Motor Vehicles that might have benefited contributors.

The elections board ordered Easley's campaign committee to pay $100,000 for previously undisclosed campaign flights aboard donors' private planes. The board also asked prosecutors to determine whether criminal charges should be filed against Easley, and a decision is expected by February.

85 Comments

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  • lkanzig Jan 22, 6:09 p.m.

    wow now this is a shock! hey got the little fish but the fat cat is getting away€!

  • oldschooltarheel Jan 22, 5:26 p.m.

    Just 'plain that trip to Russia old Mary took again - for lining up art exhibits that were already booked to come to the NC Art Museum? And that 24 hour limo service in Italy they needed/ Oh & that $60 burger & onion ring room service tab (while surrounded by the finest foods in the world)? Please!

  • wildcat Jan 22, 4:02 p.m.

    He will not like the prison life. It will not be what he desires. Oh, well when you do wrong, there is consequences and I believe he knew that.

  • American56 Jan 22, 2:57 p.m.

    WAY PAST DUE---May little governor, the easleys, campbell, NCSU crooks, current governor and her crooks, and the rest of the state crooks-- all have blisters, callusses and dish pan hands from prison chores. I think we should forget the new public safety center downtown and spend our money on a downtown prison so everyone could come by the gate and tell them how glad we are to see them in prison, with hopes they rot there.

  • North Carolina Home Jan 22, 2:26 p.m.

    Now, now...let's stop picking on Gov. Easley! It is indeed possible that he did not know what Ruffin Poole was doing because the governor was at his beach house or in his woodworking shop for most of his 2 terms.

    Do we forget that so quickly? After all, the formerly Democrat owned local Raleigh newspaper told us that was so.

  • garnertoy Jan 22, 2:01 p.m.

    Time to clean house

  • mrw1965 Jan 22, 1:54 p.m.

    Looks like Bernie going to be getting some new friends in Butner..... Ruffin and Seasley enjoy your stay!!!!

  • me2you Jan 22, 1:41 p.m.

    Why does everyone keep saying Bev Purdue is next? I'm not a fan of hers, but seems like if you have evidence of something you take it to authorities.

  • bngexpress Jan 22, 12:33 p.m.

    putting all of the politics aside , this is truly a embarrassment for all north carolinians,especially now that we are trying to promote new job growth , what company in their right mind would consider relocating here? knowing that the former gov was so corrupt , and we can be assured that the current administration is not much better , i agree with most posting here , we need to vote them all out.

  • alwayslovingu30 Jan 22, 12:15 p.m.

    Easly was A crook now they name ruffin Bev should be next she was working with him or is she exempt now that she if governor
    she has already done enough to be ousted from her office but she is still there why.anywhere from putting someone over june adkissin with A 250.000 position she created in A budget crisis for one of her friends he out now.To taking gas taxes an not spending them on roads she just squanders out tax money away.
    oust her next

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