Local Politics

Missing e-mails on Easley hiring can't be recovered

Posted July 10, 2009 11:19 a.m. EDT
Updated July 10, 2009 5:47 p.m. EDT

— A data-recovery firm cannot retrieve some messages from the personal e-mail account of former North Carolina State University Chancellor James Oblinger, a university lawyer told federal investigators Friday.

Meanwhile, a federal grand jury investigating the dealings former Gov. Mike Easley had with friends and contributors while in office now wants to look at communications between the state Division of Motor Vehicles and several Easley aides and supporters.

N.C. State turned over four more batches of documents Friday to the grand jury, which in May subpoenaed all university records regarding N.C. State's hiring and promotion of Easley's wife, Mary Easley.

University officials said last month that no e-mails before June 11, 2005, could be found in an account Oblinger used for high-priority communications. The account was opened in January 2005 when Oblinger took over as chancellor, and Oblinger was the only person who could access it.

Mary Easley officially joined N.C. State in July 2005, but previous e-mails released by the university show extensive negotiations between Oblinger, former Provost Larry Nielsen, former Board of Trustees Chairman McQueen Campbell, other university officials and the Easleys during the months preceding her hire.

In John Bruce and Dennis Duffy, N.C. State attorney Stephen Smith said Risk Management Associates, the data-recovery firm hired by the university to retrieve the missing e-mails, had restored as many messages as it could but couldn't locate some.

Risk Management Associates told university officials that all of the e-mails had been deleted before Sept. 3, 2005, Smith said.

N.C. State didn't have a formal policy in 2005 for retaining e-mails, Interim Chancellor Jim Woodward said previously, adding that he didn't believe Oblinger deleted information about Mary Easley's hiring.

Mary Easley was hired as executive-in-residence and senior lecturer at N.C. State, and she developed the Millennium Seminars speakers program and taught 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 raise, to $170,000 a year. N.C. State officials defended the raise at the time, 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.

Oblinger, Nielsen and Campbell, a close friend of Mike Easley and contributor to his campaigns, have resigned in the past two months over questions about their roles in her hiring. All have denied wrongdoing.

N.C. State officials terminated her contract on June 8, citing state budget cuts. She has appealed the move.

The documents turned over to the grand jury on Friday include e-mails from this year, contracts Mary Easley put together for her programs and 834 pages from N.C. State's internal auditor that have been completely redacted.

DMV records subpoenaed

Campbell also appears to be at the center of .

The subpoena asks for all communications since the beginning of 2000 between the DMV and the Easleys, Campbell, his father and brother, Mike Easley's campaign committee, political contributors Nick Garrett and Michael Hayden and Easley aides Cari Boyce, Dan Gerlach, Franklin Freeman, John Merritt and Ruffin Poole.

The grand jury also wants to look at documents connected to vehicle inspection stations or license plate offices owned by any of the people named in the subpoena and documents related to the dismissal of citations against an inspection station owned by McQueen Campbell.

McQueen Campbell couldn't be reached Friday for comment.

In addition to the DMV subpoena and his N.C. State connection, he is tied to two other issues the grand jury is investigating.

He brokered a real estate deal at a waterfront development in Carteret County in which the Easley's purchased a lot at a below-market price. Also, The News & Observer newspaper has reported that he flew the former governor on his private plane, but the flights were never disclosed on campaign-finance reports.

State laws limit contributions from individuals to $4,000 per candidate in a single election, and the value of the plane trips would likely have exceeded that limit.