Local News

Firms that backed Mary Easley program subpoenaed

Posted September 10, 2009 5:48 p.m. EDT
Updated September 11, 2009 10:36 a.m. EDT

— A federal grand jury has subpoenaed at least two companies that provided financial support for a speaker series former first lady Mary Easley ran at North Carolina State University.

The grand jury is investigating former Gov. Mike Easley's dealings with friends and contributors while he was in office, including how Mary Easley obtained a high-paying job at N.C. State.

Progress Energy and the North Carolina Farm Bureau confirmed to WRAL News Thursday that they have received subpoenas in the investigation. Both firms said they are cooperating with federal authorities, who are seeking information about their donations to the Millennium Seminars program at N.C. State.

The university hired Mary Easley in 2005 as an executive-in-residence and senior lecturer to develop the Millennium Seminars speakers program and to teach two courses. Last year, she received a raise to $170,000 a year, a move that N.C. State officials defended at the time by saying she had taken on additional duties.

University of North Carolina system officials approved her raise last fall on the provision that she raise about a third of the annual salary from grants and private funds, including corporate donations.

Progress Energy gave $20,000 to the program, and the Farm Bureau provided $1,000 to help sponsor a speech by former President Bill Clinton.

Farm Bureau President Larry Wooten said he was shocked to receive the subpoena, saying there was no pressure to contribute to the series and there was nothing unusual about the company's sponsorship of the Clinton speech.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, which gave $40,000 to the Millennium Seminars program while Mary Easley was in charge, hasn't been subpoenaed, a spokesman said.

Citing state budget cuts to the programs she oversaw, N.C. State terminated Mary Easley's contract in June. She has appealed the termination.

In addition to Mary Easley's job, federal investigators are looking at Mike Easley's travel while he was governor, vehicles that car dealers provided to the family, a waterfront lot in Carteret County the Easleys purchased at a below-market price, the state's sale of a Southport marina to a group that included political contributors and Division of Motor Vehicles moves that might have benefited a political contributor.

The grand jury meets again next week.