Local Politics

FBI subpoenas Easley's travel records

Posted May 15, 2009 12:00 p.m. EDT
Updated May 15, 2009 9:50 p.m. EDT

— The FBI on Friday subpoenaed state Highway Patrol records on former Gov. Mike Easley's travel while in office.

The move shows a federal investigation is building into Easley's dealings with friends and contributors during his two terms as governor.

The Highway Patrol, which provides security for the governor, turned over Easley's travel records to the State Board of Elections on Thursday.

The elections board on Friday closed its file on Easley to the public, indicating that officials had formally begun a criminal investigation of his campaign finances.

Federal agents served the patrol with a subpoena at 9 a.m. Friday requesting similar information regarding Easley's travel on private aircraft.

Easley couldn't be reached Friday for comment.

Questions arose after The News & Observer newspaper published reports of various trips Easley made on private planes of supporters. Many of those flights went unreported on his campaign finance reports and likely violated contribution limits.

Highway Patrol Capt. Alan Melvin, who headed Easley's security detail, also has been subpoenaed to talk to federal investigators. The patrol placed him on administrative duty Friday pending the outcome of an internal investigation into why the governor's 2005 travel records are missing.

"We do not have the 2005 records. We've got an investigation to figure out exactly what happened," said Capt. Everett Clendenin, spokesman for the Highway Patrol.

The FBI subpoenas are part of a federal grand jury investigation into the former governor. Agents have also asked questions about private vehicles supplied to Easley and his family, as well as a coastal property purchase.

Easley's campaign corrected several 2004-05 campaign finance reports in April and paid Bleecker Olds/Buick/GMC in Red Springs $6,884 for a GMC Yukon the dealership had provided Michael Easley, the former governor's son.

Campaign officials said the SUV was used during Mike Easley's 2004 re-election campaign, and they paid the State Board of Elections $2,911 to cover interest for the belated reporting of the campaign's use of the vehicle.

Board of Elections Executive Director Gary Bartlett told WRAL News that he has met with Easley's campaign attorney, John Wallace, and he expects officials will file more amended campaign finance reports.

There was no word Friday on whether the elections board plans to conduct a hearing on the matter.

State Republican leaders have asked Attorney General Roy Cooper to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Easley's dealings while in office, including any influence used to get his wife, Mary Easley, hired at North Carolina State University.

N.C. State Provost Larry Nielsen resigned Thursday, citing stress over questions about his hiring of Mary Easley in 2005 and an 88 percent raise awarded to her last year. McQueen Campbell, an Easley supporter, resigned Friday as chairman of N.C. State's Board of Trustees.

"It looks like storm clouds are gathering for Gov. Easley," said Joe Sinsheimer, a former Democratic Party consultant whose campaign finance complaints sparked the investigations that led to the convictions of former House Speaker Jim Black and Rep. Thomas Wright.

Sinsheimer said Easley needs to start answering the growing number of questions.

"It's that cloak of secrecy combined with the multiple-story aspect of this that makes me believe he's not telling the truth," Sinsheimer said.

Former State Prosecutor Kieran Shanahan said investigators could have a hard time making a “pay to play” case against the former governor.

“I think the most difficult part of these cases is to connect activity to some specific thing that was exchanged for it,” Shanahan said.