Local Politics

Former Easley aide appears at federal courthouse

Posted August 19, 2009 5:43 a.m. EDT
Updated August 19, 2009 8:01 p.m. EDT

— A former top adviser for former Gov. Mike Easley was seen going into the federal courthouse in Raleigh Wednesday afternoon.

A grand jury investigating Easley's dealings while in office with friends and contributors was meeting inside the courthouse.

Susan Rabon served on Easley's staff when he was both governor and attorney general. He appointed her in December to a position on the state Utilities Commission.

Rabon was inside the courthouse for about three hours and declined to comment as she left.

It's not clear what aspect of the investigation might have warranted testimony from Rabon. The grand jury has examined the former governor's travel, vehicles provided to the Easley family, the purchase of a waterfront lot at a below-market price and North Carolina State University's hiring of his wife, Mary Easley.

The grand jury has also subpoenaed documents from the state Division of Motor Vehicles and the State Auditor's Office.

Auditor Beth Wood and her chief deputy, Wesley Ray, were expected to testify to the grand jury Wednesday, but they didn't show up at the courthouse.

Wood, a Democrat, was subpoenaed to answer questions about her relationship with Easley, his wife and some former Easley staff members and contributors, including any campaign contributions or gifts she might have received from them.

The also show the grand jury wants to review records about investigations by the State Auditor's Office into Mary Easley's position at N.C. State and overseas trips taken by the former first lady.

N.C. State hired Mary Easley in 2005 and promoted her last year to a $170,000-a-year position. Questions about her hiring led to the resignations this spring of three high-ranking university officials.

The university fired her in May, citing budget cuts to programs she oversaw. She has filed a grievance over the firing.

Wood inherited the N.C. State audit from former State Auditor Les Merritt, but she refused to release it, saying that it wasn't credible. Merritt, a Republican, said he stands by the audit and that it should have been released.

Wood also said she put the brakes on because she learned the FBI was investigating the issue.

"I'm not trying to protect any Democrats," Wood said in an interview last month with WRAL News. "I was not trying to protect the Easleys. I just want a fair, impartial, independent audit so whatever the conclusions were, people could count on the facts."

This is the second set of subpoenas the State Auditor's Office has received. Federal investigators previously all documents related to any inquiry by the auditor into Mary Easley's hiring at N.C. State, including any investigative report of the university's provost.

Wood didn't appear before the grand jury in May. Instead, Lawen Becote, a supervisor in her investigative unit, testified about the Easley audit.

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.