Local Politics

Auditor defends move not to release Easley audit

Posted August 20, 2009 8:47 a.m. EDT
Updated August 20, 2009 6:55 p.m. EDT

— North Carolina's state auditor said she spent the morning before a federal grand jury defending her decision not to publicly release an audit into former first lady Mary Easley's job at North Carolina State University.

Beth Wood told reporters camped outside the federal courthouse in Raleigh Thursday that she did not face any political pressure to keep the audit private but that she wanted to continue working on the report to ensure that it was solid.

Wood, a Democrat, said Mary Easley's attorney, Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand, would have disputed the initial findings.

"If he was doing his job and doing it well, he would try to punch holes in the audit I was putting out," Wood said. "If people start to punch holes in my audits, then I have no credibility in my audits."

Wood said Rand never contacted her about the inquiry.

"There has been a lot of misinformation that I held it for political reasons," she said. "So today, I went in and explained that I was getting no political pressure, that I held it just like I look at all the audits that come across my desk."

Wood is the latest in a number of former and current state officials subpoenaed by a federal grand jury investigating former Gov. Mike Easley's dealings with friends and contributors while he was in office.

Investigators have been examining his travel, vehicles provided to the Easley family, the purchase of a waterfront lot at a below-market price and N.C. State's hiring of his wife.

Wood was subpoenaed to answer questions about her relationship with the Easleys, some former Easley staff members and to provide information about any "business ventures" or financial ties she had with anyone mentioned in the federal probe.

A spokeswoman for Wood said she had no such ties.

Wood inherited the N.C. State audit from former State Auditor Les Merritt, but she refused to release it, saying that she found it to be partisan and lacking credibility.

"It did bring up issues that needed further investigation," she said.

Merritt, a Republican, has said he stands by the audit and that it should have been released.

N.C. State hired Mary Easley in 2005 and promoted her last year to a $170,000-a-year position. The university fired her in May, citing budget cuts to programs she oversaw.

Questions about her hiring led to the resignations of the university's former provost, Larry Nielsen, former Chancellor James Oblinger and Campbell McQueen, the former chairman of N.C. State's Board of Trustees.

All three have denied any wrongdoing. Nielsen testified to the grand jury last month; Oblinger testified in May.

Federal investigators have also subpoenaed DMV records related to Campbell, also an Easley ally who provided the governor with air travel.

George Tatum, a former commissioner of the Division of Motor Vehicles under Easley, also appeared at the courthouse Thursday morning. He declined to comment.

In February 2007, Tatum dismissed without explanation, a citation that could have shut down an inspection station that Campbell owned.

Tatum resigned in July 2007 amid allegations that he helped a friend get a vintage truck title for a replica vehicle, a move that can save owners hundreds of dollars in taxes.

Easley's former aide, Susan Rabon,was also at the courthouse for about three hours Wednesday. She declined to comment as she left. It's unclear what aspect of the investigation might have warranted testimony from her.