State Auditor Beth Wood will not comply with a cease-and-desist order from the head of the state's Alcohol Law Enforcement Division.
The order came from private attorneys retained by ALE Director JohnLedford.
A recent audit by Wood found Ledford and Deputy ALE Director Allen Page had been using state cars and gas cards to commute to their homes in Asheville on weekends at taxpayer expense.
Public safety officials defended Ledford and Page, who claimed they had been engaged in state business on those trips. The audit found no evidence to support that.
The order, served on Wood Wednesday as she prepared to testify about the audit before a legislative oversight committee, demands that she remove the audit and an accompanying video from the Auditor’s website. Otherwise, the order warns, she could be sued for slander or libel.
In a response to the order, Wood’s general counsel says the audit was completed according to state law and the powers of the office, so she will not comply with the legal threat.
The exchange is just the latest twist in the increasingly strange story of the ALE audit. When it was released June 19th, Wood said officials at the agency and higher up in the Department of Public Safety had attempted to stonewall the audit, refusing to meet with audit staff or provide required records.
The oddest development was a public records request by ALE officials for the personnel records, travel and expense accounts of the auditors conducting the probe. Wood said it was an attempt to intimidate her staff, and refused to comply with the request.
“We’ve never had anybody try to use these kinds of tactics,” said Wood spokesman Dennis Patterson.
He says the legal threat is just the latest attempt by public safety officials to intimidate Wood.
“They moved heaven and earth – they did everything they could to try to prevent this investigation from going forward,” Patterson said. “We were very, very close to filing obstruction of justice charges, which we have the authority to do.”
“They unfortunately picked the wrong person,” he added. “Beth Wood is not easily intimidated.”
Patterson said the auditor consulted her general counsel and the Attorney General’s office about the demand to remove the audit and video from the website.
"That’s just not going to happen,” Patterson said. “We’re continuing on, and we’re very comfortable that we’ve done our job, and as long as we have that, that report is going to be posted on our website for the public like every other report we have.”
Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Pam Walker had only this response: "This is an individual (Ledford) who has retained private counsel at his own expense to protect and assert his individual rights."
Neither DPS nor Governor Bev Perdue's office had any comment on the appropriateness of the legal threat.