Raleigh, N.C. — Officials in the state Department of Public Safety repeatedly blocked attempts by state auditors to investigate a complaint that two high-ranking Division of Alcohol Law Enforcement officers were misusing their state-owned vehicles, according to an audit released Tuesday.
DPS Secretary Reuben Young wrote in a sharply worded response to the audit that his staffers were acting cautiously since auditors were seeking access to personnel records of the two ALE officials.
"Requests by legal counsel and department management that your investigator refer them to the specific statutory provisions upon which he relied in asserting his authority were met with resistance, indignation and, at times, outright refusal," Young wrote. "Given the severity of the sanctions for erroneously releasing confidential personnel information, the department acted judiciously in confirming your authority to access such information prior to releasing it."
The auditors were responding to a tip that ALE Director John Ledford and Deputy Director for Operations Allen Page were using their state-owned vehicles to commute to their homes near Asheville on the weekends.
State law allows the men to use their official vehicles for commuting but also requires them to live in or near Raleigh since they are based at headquarters. The men share an apartment in Raleigh, according to the audit, so they shouldn't be using a state-owned car to commute elsewhere.
According to the audit, attempts to speak with ALE officers in Asheville were met with so much resistance that the State Auditor's Office had to ask the Attorney General's Office to prepare subpoenas to compel cooperation before ALE officials finally relented and spoke with investigators.
"Everywhere we turned to carry out and do our jobs, we were stonewalled. We were stopped. There were obstacles put in the way," State Auditor Beth Wood said Tuesday.
Ledford and Page then filed formal complaints against the lead investigator, seeking details on his employment history and travel expenses and accusing him of incompetence, the audit states.
"The complaint and records request appeared to be submitted as an attempt to threaten or distract (audit) investigators from carrying out their duties," the audit states.
"We've never had the table reversed on one of my investigators before," Wood said. "I had to smile that they think something so elementary would work on this office."
Both men then failed to show up for a scheduled interview with auditors. When they finally did meet, they denied any misuse of state vehicles, although the documents they provided didn't substantiate their claims, according to the audit.
They often used state credit cards to purchase gas in the western part of the state without having any business purpose for being there, according to the audit. ALE agents told investigators that Page would often stop by offices in Greensboro, Hickory and Asheville on Thursday or Friday afternoons to drop off paperwork and visit but noted that he had no specific reason for being there.
"Unequivocally, if I was in my state car, I was on state business, without a doubt," Page told investigators. "There are times I have been on state business or I drove my car home anticipating that I might need blue lights and siren to respond to something, and I haven't documented it."
Young said that Ledford and Page aren't required to disprove the allegations against them and noted that auditors didn't find much to substantiate their case.
"You recommendation that we consider taking appropriate disciplinary action against the director and deputy director is manifestly inappropriate," he wrote in his response to the audit.
Wood said she stands by the audit and DPS should, at a minimum, seek reimbursement from Ledford and Page for gas and wear and tear on the vehicles for trips they can't document as business-related.
"To step back and say, 'I just don't see it that there was abuse here,' I'm disappointed. As a taxpayer, I'm disappointed," she said.
Gov. Beverly Perdue is reviewing the audit and Young's response, a spokesman said.