After more than a year of speculation and allegations involving flights, favors, land deals and a job for his wife, Easley entered an Alford plea Tuesday morning to a single campaign finance violation and avoiding a prison sentence.
“He gets to walk with no admission of guilty and a $1,000 fine and court costs,” Tom Fetzer said Tuesday evening. “He will spend that much on the bottle of wine celebrating tonight.”
In an Alford plea, a defendant pleads guilty, while maintaining his or her innocence, and admits it is in his or her best interest to take the plea deal because there is sufficient evidence that could find him or her guilty.
Prosecutor Bill Kenerly, a Republican, said campaign finance records and information gathered by State Bureau of Investigation agents turned up no other illegal activities.
"I did not find any evidence to go forward on any non-campaign issue," Kenerly said. "Campaign money was not used inappropriately; it was reported incorrectly ... It was not money anywhere, that I have found, that was used illegally."
Easley was ordered to pay a $1,000 fine, court costs, and as a convicted felon, he will lose some of his civil rights.
Critics, like Fetzer, say the penalty amounts to one more favor the former governor got because of who he knows.
"Here is another man who was well-connected, had friends in high places, and he got a different level of justice than what an ordinary citizen would have got,” Fetzer said.
With Easley’s plea, the federal government also dropped its investigation into Easley’s dealings,
"There's just nothing there. If there was something there, somebody would have done something about it," Easley’s attorney, Joe Cheshire, said. "It's easy for the federal government to charge someone, and it's easier for them to convict someone."
Easley, 60, is the first North Carolina governor to be convicted of a crime related to his actions while in office.
In a statement, U.S. Attorney George Holding called the case “a sad chapter” in the state’s history.
"It is no cause for celebration that a former governor of North Carolina has been convicted of a felony related to his service as governor, but it does signify that North Carolina is taking seriously the enforcement of its campaign finance laws,” Holding said.
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