Local Politics

Ex-Easley aide pleads not guilty to corruption charges

Posted April 5, 2010 4:04 a.m. EDT
Updated April 5, 2010 6:58 p.m. EDT

— Ruffin Poole, who was once a top aide to former Gov. Mike Easley, pleaded not guilty Monday to 57 corruption charges, but a federal judge say he doesn't plan on giving Poole another four months to prepare for trial.

A federal grand jury indicted Poole in January on 51 charges, including extortion, bribery and money laundering. Last month, the grand jury issued a new indictment, adding three counts of tax evasion and three counts of using e-mails to discuss using his influence in exchange for monetary benefit.

Poole, 38, was Easley's legal counsel and trusted adviser during the governor's two terms in office.

The indictments noted that Poole became known among Easley's top contributors as "Little Governor" because he was the person tasked with resolving any problems donors faced with state regulators and with lining up appointments for them to serve on state boards and commissions.

In exchange for his work, the donors gave Poole gifts like free concert tickets and trips, according to the indictment. One paid for Poole's bachelor party in New Orleans, and another bought $600 in liquor for his wedding.

Poole also was allowed to invest in coastal real estate developments at the same time as he was working to secure permits for those projects from state regulators, according to the indictment.

The indictments allege Poole never reported any of the gifts on his annual financial disclosure forms to the state Ethics Commission and used his family's construction firm to handle money he received through the real estate investments.

U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle has set a tentative trial date for April 26. Poole wants the trial delayed until August – his lawyer said he has to review about 50,000 pages of documents prosecutors have compiled in the case – but the government wants the trial held this spring.

Boyle said Monday that he would consider delaying the trial by weeks, but not months.

"The government is going full-speed ahead, and I think it's moving at a relatively fast pace, all things considered," said Kieran Shanahan, a Raleigh lawyer and former federal prosecutor. "We're probably running up against statute of limitations."

The grand jury has been investigating for more than a year Easley's dealings with friends and contributors while in office.

Shanahan said it's clear that Poole is a stepping stone for the government to build a case against Easley.

"You need a live body. Ruffin Poole is the live body to testify," he said. "He's a critical component. He's worth holding out for."

Convicting Poole could be important in pursuing Easley, Shanahan said, especially if Poole isn't inclined to cooperate with federal prosecutors.

"After a jury verdict, by the way, Ruffin Poole would lose his privilege against self-incrimination. They can call him as a witness, in any event," he said.