RALEIGH, N.C. — Federal agents led a longtime aide to former Democratic Gov. Mike Easley into the federal courthouse in Raleigh Thursday morning, a week after a grand jury indicted him on 51 corruption-related charges.
Ruffin Poole, who was Easley's legal counsel and trusted adviser during the governor's two terms in office, was handcuffed as he entered the courthouse.
"It's demoralizing. It's humiliating. Probably the reality of it is never more clear than when you're standing in front of a federal judge," Kieran Shanahan, a Raleigh attorney and former federal prosecutor, said of Poole's appearance in federal court.
After making a brief appearance before U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle, Poole surrendered his passport and was released on a $50,000 unsecured bond.
He declined to comment as he left the courthouse with his attorney, Joe Zeszotarski.
Poole, who turned 38 this week, is charged in a 64-page indictment with extortion, bribery, racketeering, mail fraud and money laundering.
The grand jury has in recent months been investigating Easley's dealings with friends and contributors while in office, but Easley wasn't named in the indictment.
The indictment notes that Poole became known among Easley's top contributors as "Little Governor" because he was the person tasked with resolving any problems donors faced with state regulators and with lining up appointments for them to serve on state boards and commissions.
In exchange for his work, the donors gave Poole gifts like free concert tickets and trips, according to the indictment. One paid for Poole's bachelor party in New Orleans, and another bought $600 in liquor for his wedding.
Poole also was allowed to invest in coastal real estate developments at the same time as he was working to secure permits for those projects from state regulators, according to the indictment.
The indictment alleges Poole never reported any of the gifts on his annual financial disclosure forms to the state Ethics Commission and used his family's construction firm to handle money he received through the real estate investments.
Noting the low bond given to Poole and his handshake with Assistant U.S. Attorney John Bruce as he left the courtroom, Shanahan said it's clear that federal investigators hope to work closely with Poole to build a case against Easley.
"Ruffin Poole would certainly be a blow to any defense Easley might try and put on," Shanahan said.