RALEIGH, N.C. — The North Carolina State Ports Authority is given financial flexibility to funnel trade and business from the coast inland. However, a state audit accuses Erik Stromberg, the Authority's chief executive officer and executive director, and other employees of taking that freedom too far.
When North Carolina State played Notre Dame in the 2003 Gator Bowl, Stromberg took his sons and a state car to Jacksonville. A railroad company gave him the tickets and he charged his hotel, travel and meals on his state credit card
"It ended up, in his words, being a freebie," state auditor Ralph Campbell said.
Campbell said Stromberg also double-dipped the system because he was paid $500 extra a month for a personal vehicle.
"That's certainly inappropriate to accept a car allowance and then also driving a state car at no expense," he said.
Stromberg has had other brushes with trouble. The state executive was convicted of drunk driving following a crash in Wrightsville Beach last year.
Investigators also found 30 other cases where Ports employees used state-issued corporate cards for personal items like meals and amusement park tickets. Some paid back the money while others did not.
"That really is an opportunity and opens the door for potential fraud," Campbell said.
In a statement, Dick Futrell, the Authority board chairman, said, "the CEO believed the trip would help develop corporate relations," although railroad executives never showed. "As a result of this process, the Authority's policies and procedures have been clarified."
"The issue is that we have to run our operations and be above board as far as accountability is concerned," Campbell said.
The Ports Authority has written a new policy that prohibits any personal use of corporate cards. The board is tightening up guidelines for accepting gifts. Stromberg has since repaid the cost of the tickets and the trip.