Local Politics

Scope of Easley probe grows almost daily

Posted June 18, 2009 5:45 p.m. EDT
Updated June 18, 2009 6:58 p.m. EDT

— Critics of former Gov. Mike Easley have taken shots at him for years and come up short. As a federal grand jury probes his dealings with friends and contributors while in office, many of those old issues are resurfacing.

The State Board of Ethics, for example, dismissed a 2006 complaint that accused Easley of using his influence to push through a lease deal for the Southport marina for his contributors.

"I don't think the Ethics Commission did a serious investigation of the nature of the Southport marina deal and Easley's role," said Don Carrington, vice president of the conservative John Locke Foundation and associate publisher of the group's Carolina Journal.

Carrington has written extensively about Wilmington developer Nick Garrett, who was initially involved in the marina deal and who completed major renovations on Easley's home in Southport. Carrington also questioned a land purchase Easley made in the Cannonsgate subdivision in Carteret County.

"You or I would not get the choicest lot in Cannonsgate for half price. We couldn't get our home remodeled and not pay until long after it's finished," he said.

The federal grand jury has subpoenaed records related to the marina deal from the state Ports Authority, and authority Chairman Carl Stewart testified before the grand jury Wednesday.

Federal investigators also have questioned people about the Cannonsgate deal and vehicles car dealers provided to Easley and his family.

The grand jury also has subpoenaed the former governor's travel records from the state Highway Patrol. The News & Observer newspaper has reported that some contributors flew Easley on their private planes, but the flights were never disclosed in campaign finance reports.

Former North Carolina State University Chancellor James Oblinger also testified before the grand jury Wednesday. N.C. State has turned over all records regarding its employment of Easley's wife, Mary Easley.

Oblinger, former Provost Larry Nielsen and McQueen Campbell, a close friend of Mike Easley who served as chairman of N.C. State's Board of Trustees, have all resigned in recent weeks amid questions of their roles in Mary Easley's hiring in 2005.

N.C. State terminated her $170,000-a-year contract last week, citing state budget cuts.

Former federal prosecutor Dan Boyce, who represents an unidentified witness in the case, predicted the Easley case won't end anytime soon.

"The scope of this investigation is so broad. It could be a year or two years before the grand jury completes its investigation," Boyce said. "A lot depends on whether you think this is a prosecution or a persecution."