Local Politics

Ex-Southport mayor appears at federal courthouse

Posted May 19, 2010 7:31 a.m. EDT
Updated May 19, 2010 4:42 p.m. EDT

— Former Southport Mayor Norman Holden appeared at the federal courthouse in Raleigh Wednesday as the grand jury investigating former Gov. Mike Easley's dealings with friends and contributors while in office met inside.

The grand jury, which has been meeting for more than a year, was expected to hear testimony through Friday.

Holden declined to comment as he entered and exited the courthouse.

Former Easley aide Susan Rabon, who now serves on the North Carolina Utilities Commission, also appeared at the federal courthouse Wednesday. She also was at the courthouse last August while the grand jury met.

Rabon also declined to comment.

Both Holden and Rabon were named as "relevant parties" in a subpoena sent to the state Department of Transportation that sought information about any contracts Holden had with the agency, Easley's home in Southport and any exchange of money or gifts for political favors.

Other "relevant parties" listed in the subpoena include Easley, his wife, other former aides, former Sen. Tony Rand, Former  Transportation Secretary Lyndo Tippett, former Division of Motor Vehicles Commissioner George Tatum, and former DOT board members.

Tippett and Allen Pope, a DOT district engineer for southeast North Carolina, also have been subpoenaed in the case.

A subpoena doesn't mean that a person did anything wrong, but prosecutors believe they have evidence or knowledge relating to an investigation. Witnesses don't necessarily testify in court in Raleigh; they might turn over evidence or speak to federal investigators outside of court.

It's unclear what information Tippett might know that would help in the investigation, but Lanny Wilson, a Wilmington developer and former DOT board member, has been a key witness for investigators.

Ruffin Poole, once Easley's legal counsel, pleaded guilty last month to a federal tax evasion charge and agreed to cooperate with investigators. Wilson allowed Poole to invest in the Cannonsgate development in Carteret County in 2005, and Poole shepherded environmental permits for the development and other coastal projects while quickly making a $30,000 profit that he never reported on his income tax returns, prosecutors said.

Easley later purchased a waterfront lot in Cannonsgate at a below-market rate.

The grand jury also has looked into Easley's travel aboard donors' private planes, former first lady Mary Easley's high-paying job at North Carolina State University and other real estate deals.