Local Politics

Second Easley appointee resigns

Posted May 20, 2009 3:00 p.m. EDT
Updated May 20, 2009 6:54 p.m. EDT

— For the second time in a week, a major supporter of former Gov. Mike Easley has resigned amid state and federal investigations into the former governor's dealings with friends and contributors.

Transportation board member Cameron McRae, who reportedly flew Easley on his corporate jet, submitted his resignation to Gov. Beverly Perdue, and she accepted it.

McRae, a Bojangles' restaurant franchisee from Kinston, had served on the powerful transportation board for more than eight years. Easley appointed him to a third four-year term shortly before leaving office in January.

The News & Observer newspaper recently reported that McRae had flown Easley in his plane at least twice, but neither man disclosed the flights in campaign finance reports.

State law requires transportation board members to provide details of campaign activities. Also, the unreported flights violated a state ban on corporate political contributions and exceeded the limits placed on individual contributions.

The FBI last Friday subpoenaed Easley's travel records as part of a growing probe into his activities while in office. Investigators also have questioned people about vehicles provided to the governor's family and about a coastal land deal in which he was involved.

"If the federal government's involved, if there is a federal grand jury investigation, it's a big deal," said Dan Boyce, a former federal prosecutor who represents a potential witness in the case.

Still, Boyce said, questions don't always mean guilt.

"I've been involved in scores of investigations over the years on both sides where nothing ever comes of it," he said.

On Tuesday, the FBI subpoenaed records from North Carolina State University about the hiring and promotion of Easley's wife, Mary Easley.

Mary Easley began working as a part-time instructor at N.C. State in 2002. Since 2005, she has served as an executive-in-residence and senior lecturer, developing a speakers program and teaching a graduate course in public administration and courses in the Administrative Officers Management Program, which provides leadership training to law enforcement officers.

Last year, she received an 88 percent pay increase, to $170,000 a year. N.C. State officials defended the move, saying she had taken on additional duties, such as directing pre-law services at the university and serving as a liaison to area law firms and law schools at other universities as she developed a dual-degree program.

Provost Larry Nielsen, who hired her in 2005, submitted his resignation last Thursday, citing stress over questions about her. N.C. State Board of Trustees Chairman McQueen Campbell resigned the following day, saying he didn't want questions about Mary Easley to become a distraction for the university.

Mike Easley twice appointed Campbell to the university board, and The News & Observer reported that Campbell also flew Easley on his private plane but never disclosed the flights in campaign finance reports.

Nielsen and N.C. State Chancellor James Oblinger have been subpoenaed to testify Thursday before a federal grand jury about Mary Easley's hiring and promotion.

Oblinger and University of North Carolina President Erskine Bowles have called on Mary Easley to resign, but it's unclear whether they would take the decision out of her hands.

"I'm hoping Mrs. Easley will do the right thing," Oblinger said Wednesday.

The State Board of Elections on Friday closed its file on Mike Easley to the public, indicating that officials there have formally begun a criminal investigation of his campaign finances.