Local Politics

Highway Patrol turns computer over to feds

Posted August 24, 2009 2:43 p.m. EDT
Updated August 24, 2009 9:48 p.m. EDT

— The state Highway Patrol has turned over a computer that once contained details of former Gov. Mike Easley's travel to federal investigators, authorities said Monday.

A federal grand jury is looking into Easley's dealings with friends and contributors while in office, including flights on private planes that might have violated campaign finance laws.

The Highway Patrol in May turned over Easley's travel records, but authorities said records for 2005 were missing. Patrol Capt. Alan Melvin, who headed Easley's security detail from 2003 to 2007, was placed on administrative duty pending the outcome of an internal investigation.

An , released over the weekend, didn't determine what happened to the missing records, but authorities said it cleared Melvin of any wrongdoing.

FBI forensics experts might be able to recover the missing records from the computer's memory, Highway Patrol spokesman Capt. Everett Clendenin said.

"We've done what we can do. They have technologies that we don't have and maybe they can enlighten us on the whereabouts of the records," Clendenin said.

In the report, Diane Bumgardner, who was the secretary for the security team, said Melvin told her in February 2006 to download Easley's travel files from 2003 to 2005 onto a disk "to free up space on the computer." She said she then gave the disk to Melvin.

Melvin told investigators he created forms for troopers assigned to the security team that included travel itineraries and contacts so the troopers would be better organized. The forms were routinely shredded at the conclusion of each trip, he said, but electronic copies were kept on the office computer.

There was no mention in his section of the report about the disk Bumgardner gave him.

He said he did visit Easley while off duty this year, after the governor had left office, and gave him a computer hard drive. He said that hard drive didn't contain any Highway Patrol documents or information.

Melvin, who testified before the grand jury in May, returned to duty last month as a supervisor in the patrol's technical support unit, which maintains computer networks. Col. Randy Glover, who took charge of the patrol three weeks ago, exonerated Melvin of wrongdoing in the case, Clendenin said.

"What he reviewed was that there was no purposeful intent to hide or delete records," Clendenin said, adding that the patrol would continue to investigate the missing records.

However, Secretary of Crime Control and Public Safety Ruben Young said in a statement late Monday that Melvin had been taken off the technical support unit job pending the outcome of an independent investigation.

“I was concerned about the recent comments in regards to the missing 2005 travel records. I initiated a process seeking an investigation into this matter," Young said in the statement.

Joe Sinsheimer, a Democratic political consultant who has helped spark several political corruption investigations, called the Highway Patrol's report "an embarrassment."

"This thing looks, smells and feels like a cover-up, and the governor should demand a special prosecutor immediately," Sinsheimer said. "To put him back in charge of record retention at the Highway Patrol with this kind of troubling omission in his record really just defies logic."

An earlier attempt to recover other missing electronic information in the Easley investigation was mostly unsuccessful.

North Carolina State University hired a forensic team to retrieve e-mails deleted from the personal account of former Chancellor James Oblinger. E-mails were missing for the months leading up to the university's 2005 hiring of Easley's wife, Mary Easley.

Other N.C. State e-mails turned over to the grand jury showed high-ranking university officials had been in contact with Mike Easley about a potential job for Mary Easley.

In addition to the governor's travel and Mary Easley's job, the grand jury also is looking at vehicles that car dealers provided to the Easleys, a waterfront lot in Carteret County they purchased at a below-market price, the state's sale of a Southport marina to a group that included political contributors and Division of Motor Vehicles moves that might have benefited a political contributor.