Local Politics

State auditor subpoenaed for Mary Easley records

Posted May 26, 2009 11:20 a.m. EDT
Updated May 26, 2009 6:56 p.m. EDT

— Federal investigators have subpoenaed the State Auditor's Office for records related to the wife of former Gov. Mike Easley, officials said Tuesday.

A federal grand jury is investigating Easley's dealings while in office with friends and contributors, including how Mary Easley obtained a high-paying job at North Carolina State University.

The requests all documents related to any inquiry by the State Auditor's Office into Mary Easley's hiring at N.C. State, including any investigative report of the university's provost.

N.C. State Provost Larry Nielsen and Board of Trustees Chairman McQueen Campbell have already resigned over questions about their roles in her hiring and promotion. Both men have denied any wrongdoing, although Campbell, an Easley family friend, did acknowledge that he told N.C. State officials in 2005 that she was looking for a job at the same time they were searching for someone to head up a new speakers program.

Mary Easley said last week she wouldn't resign from N.C. State amid the controversy. A growing number of political and educational leaders across the state have asked her to step down.

Meanwhile, state law could preclude legislative efforts to abolish funding to N.C. State for her job.

A legal opinion given to House Minority Leader Paul Stam said such action could violate ethics rules because state law shields government workers from legislative retribution.

"To say that doing so is unethical just strikes me to be something that goes in the wrong direction and turns everything upside down," Senate Minority Leader Phil Berger said. "It's almost an Alice in Wonderland kind of thing."

Dennis Patterson, a spokesman for the State Auditor's Office, wouldn't confirm that an audit into Mary Easley's hiring was ever undertaken, but the federal subpoena signals that investigators believe auditors at least started down that road.

"We would show them whatever documents we got, interviews that might have been done, any work papers we would produce, and any questions about it," Patterson said.

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 the Millennium Seminars 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.

Investigators have subpoenaed Mary Easley's work records from N.C. State, but university officials delayed last week an appearance before the grand jury in order to gather the information.

The State Auditor's Office last year reviewed Mary Easley's international travel as first lady and deemed that she ran up "unreasonable and excessive expenses" on trips to France and to Estonia and Russia that she took with the state Department of Cultural Resources.

Among the expenses criticized in the audit were her stay at a five-star hotel in St. Petersburg, Russia, that cost close to $1,000 a night and 24-hour availability of private transportation in a Mercedes SUV over an eight-day period that cost more than $27,000.

That audit was done under former State Auditor Les Merritt, a Republican. Democrat Beth Wood was elected state auditor in November.

Patterson said Wood's office is cooperating with the federal investigation.

The FBI also has subpoenaed Mike Easley's travel records from the state Highway Patrol, which provides security for the governor and lieutenant governor, and has interviewed people about vehicles provided to the Easley family and a coastal land deal in which the governor participated.

Patrol Capt. Alan Melvin, who headed the former governor's security detail, testified before the grand jury Thursday.

The Highway Patrol placed Melvin on administrative duty pending the outcome of an internal investigation into the disappearance of all gubernatorial travel records for 2005.

Mike Easley has said he is confident in the outcome of the investigation.