Local News

Feds subpoena Mary Easley's job records

Posted May 19, 2009 4:41 p.m. EDT
Updated May 20, 2009 11:21 a.m. EDT

— Federal investigators on Tuesday subpoenaed employment records for the wife of former Gov. Mike Easley.

North Carolina State University Chancellor James Oblinger said the subpoenas seek her employment records back to 2002. The subpoenas order Oblinger, Provost Larry Nielsen and the university's custodian of records to appear before a federal grand jury Thursday morning.

Mary Easley began working as a part-time instructor at N.C. State in 2002. Since 2005, she has served as an executive-in-residence and senior lecturer, developing the Millennium Seminars speakers program and teaching a graduate course in public administration and courses in the Administrative Officers Management Program, which provides leadership training to law enforcement officers.

Last year, she received an 88 percent pay increase, to $170,000 a year. N.C. State officials defended the move, saying she had taken on additional duties, such as directing pre-law services at the university and serving as a liaison to area law firms and law schools at other universities as she developed a dual degree program.

Two N.C. State officials have resigned in recent days over her hiring, and Oblinger and University of North Carolina President Erskine Bowles on Monday called on her to step down as well.

Easley hasn't returned phone calls seeking comment.

N.C. State faculty and others have questioned her compensation for months. On Tuesday, a lobbying watchdog criticized how she is paid.

University records show that, since last year, private money she raises covered part of her salary. Since 2006, she solicited $192,795 from corporations and foundations, including $40,000 from Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, $20,000 from Progress Energy and $15,000 from AT&T.

Spokesmen for Blue Cross and Progress Energy said the companies' donations were for specific aspects of the Millennium Seminars program and not to fund Mary Easley's salary.

"I think there's an absolute conflict of interest," said Jane Pinsky, director of the North Carolina Coalition For Lobbying and Government Reform. "I don't like that they were using my hard-earned money (to pay her) at the same time she was taking money from corporations that do business here in North Carolina who might want a favor from the governor."

N.C. State spokesman Keith Nichols said the money Easley raised also helped cover the cost of running the Millennium Seminars program, which has brought speakers like former President Bill Clinton to campus. He didn't disclose how much of her salary was paid with private money.

"One of the things that the state code of ethics says is a politician and their family shall not use the office for personal financial gain, and I don't see how she didn't do that," Pinsky said.

Nielsen, who hired Easley, submitted his resignation on Thursday, citing the stress over questions about the hiring and his subsequent promotion to provost. The resignation takes effect on Friday, when Nielsen will take a faculty position in N.C. State's College of Natural Resources.

McQueen Campbell resigned Friday as chairman of N.C. State's Board of Trustees. Mike Easley twice appointed Campbell to the board, and The News & Observer newspaper has reported that the former governor often flew in Campbell's private plane.

Neilsen and Campbell have maintained they did nothing wrong in Mary Easley's hiring, although Campbell did tell Bowles last week that, when N.C. State officials were looking for someone to oversee the speakers series, he mentioned to Oblinger that Mary Easley was looking for a new job.

Oblinger said Tuesday that he doesn't feel his job is in jeopardy over the situation and that he has no plans to resign.

Gov. Beverly Perdue side-stepped the issue Tuesday when asked whether she thought Mary Easley should resign.

"I'm closely following what the university's doing, and I hope and pray that they resolve it very quickly," Perdue said.

On Friday, the State Board of Elections launched a criminal investigation into Mike Easley's campaign finances, and the FBI subpoenaed the former governor's travel records from the state Highway Patrol, which provides a security detail for the first family.

Travel records for 2005 are missing, and state Republican leaders have called for an independent investigation of the situation.

Perdue said she thought the Highway Patrol should be allowed to investigate the missing records.

Federal investigators have already looked into vehicles provided to the Easley family while Mike Easley was governor and into a land deal he made on the coast.

The former governor Easley issued a statement Saturday in which he said he was "comfortable with the federal authorities collecting and reviewing all records relating to my 30 years of public service to the people of North Carolina."