Local Politics

Feds: Easley probe will last as long as needed

Posted August 6, 2010 4:32 p.m. EDT
Updated August 13, 2010 1:22 p.m. EDT

— Responding to criticism from Democrats about the length of a federal investigation of former Gov. Mike Easley, U.S. Attorney George Holding said he doesn't rush criminal probes.

Since early last year, a federal grand jury has subpoenaed records related to Easley's travel, land deals and relationships with developers. The grand jury indicted Ruffin Poole, a former top aide, on 57 corruption charges, and he pleaded guilty in April to income tax evasion.

Some Democrats have said recently that it's unfair to Easley to have a cloud over his head, and the lingering investigation could intrude on the fall elections.

Holding said Friday that he couldn't comment on the Easley investigation, but he said he won't let such criticism affect the way his office handles a case.

"There are always outside influences. To me, that is just static – what other people are saying who aren't involved in the case," he said. "We're going to do what is right for the case at the time that it is right for the case."

He noted the corruption case against former House Speaker Jim Black lasted about 25 months before Black pleaded guilty. The case against former Agriculture Commissioner Meg Scott Phipps took about 18 months to put together before she pleaded guilty.

Legal experts said the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down part of an anti-fraud statute used to prosecute some corruption cases might have complicated any case against Easley. To pursue cases under the so-called honest services law, prosecutors must now prove a bribe or kickback was involved.

Holding said the ruling takes away an important tool for prosecutors to tackle corruption, but he declined to comment on any impact on the Easley investigation.

A Republican appointee, he has remained in office solely to complete the investigations of Easley and former presidential candidate John Edwards. U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan said she wanted to hold off having President Barack Obama name a new U.S. attorney to avoid politicizing the two probes.

Holding said he has total confidence in his prosecutors and in his eventual replacement to uphold the law and follow through on the probes.