Local Politics

Two key state leaders under Easley appear at federal courthouse

Posted June 17, 2010 10:46 a.m. EDT
Updated June 17, 2010 6:23 p.m. EDT

— Two key members of former Gov. Mike Easley's cabinet appeared at the federal courthouse in Raleigh Thursday.

Jim Fain, who served as North Carolina Secretary of Commerce, and former Transportation Secretary Lyndo Tippett were seen entering and exiting the building, where a grand jury investigating Easley's dealings with friends and contributors was meeting.

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

Fain arrived at the courthouse at about 10:40 a.m. and spent about two hours inside. Afterward, he would only say he had business at the courthouse but declined to elaborate.

Tippett was inside for about three hours.

There is no indication that either man has done anything wrong. Prosecutors subpoena witnesses they think might 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.

Former Division of Motor Vehicles Commissioner George Tatum and former DOT board members are among other "relevant parties" who have been subpoenaed to testify in the Easley investigation.

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.

Last fall, the state Board of Elections determined that Easley broke state campaign finance laws. Rowan County District Attorney Bill Kennerly is reviewing the case and expects to make a decision on whether to file criminal charges against the former governor sometime next month.