Local Politics

Easley campaign paid for vehicle feds are investigating

Posted April 20, 2009 6:40 p.m. EDT
Updated April 22, 2009 9:47 a.m. EDT

— Former Gov. Mike Easley used campaign money to help pay for an SUV used by his son while Easley was in office, according to documents filed with the State Board of Elections.

According to published reports, federal authorities are investigating Easley's relationship with automobile dealers, including the apparent free use of vehicles by the former governor's family.

Easley couldn't be reached for comment Monday. Federal authorities wouldn't confirm or deny that an investigation is underway.

Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand confirmed to WRAL News that Fayetteville car dealer Bobby Bleecker has been contacted by federal investigators. One of Bleecker's dealerships provided a GMC Yukon for Michael Easley, the former governor's son.

Mike Easley paid Bleecker Olds/Buick/GMC in Red Springs $6,884 for the SUV on April 2, shortly after reports about the vehicle appeared in the media.

John Wallace, an attorney for the Mike Easley Committee, sent letters Friday and Monday to Gary Bartlett, executive director of the State Board of Elections, outlining the campaign's payment for SUV.

"The committee has determined that the vehicle in question was apparently made available for campaign use in connection with the 2004 primary and general elections," Wallace wrote. "It appears the vehicle was used for personal purposes after mid-2005."

About $6,710 in campaign money was used to pay Bleecker for the vehicle, according to the Friday letter.

On Monday, the Mike Easley Committee cut a check for $2,911 to the State Board of Elections to cover interest for the belated reporting of the use of the SUV. Wallace said several quarterly campaign-finance reports from 2003 to 2005 also have been amended to reflect the use of the vehicle.

Democratic political consultant Joe Sinsheimer, who played a role in the investigations that sent former House Speaker Jim Black and state Rep. Thomas Wright to prison, said he sees the early signs of a federal probe into Easley.

"Did the governor try to enrich himself at the same time he was being a public servant?" Sinsheimer said. "That is usually at the heart of most public corruption cases."

He said he believes investigators will also dig into a land deal Easley made with a private marina, as well as air travel supplied by the former governor's supporters while he was in office.

"My guess is that this inquiry will spread out pretty quickly," he said.