WRAL Investigates

New Hanover ABC under federal investigation

Posted January 22, 2011 10:17 a.m. EST
Updated January 24, 2011 6:14 p.m. EST

— The attorney for a contractor facing mail fraud charges says the case stems from a federal investigation into the New Hanover Alcohol Beverage Control board.

Wilmington general contractor Lee F. Cowper is accused of padding an order for the Porter's Neck ABC liquor store with an extra $43,000.

Investigators said that Cowper was owed that amount after building a garage at the home of former New Hanover ABC administrator Billy Williams.

Both he and Williams have both denied wrongdoing, according to The Wilmington Star-News

Cowper's attorney, Joe Cheshire of Raleigh, called his client "a peripheral casualty in a federal investigation into the workings of the New Hanover County ABC Board." Cowper is cooperating with government agents, Cheshire said.

In the past two years, the New Hanover ABC board came under fire for high salaries and building contracts that came in well over the estimated cost.

Thomas Wolfe, chairman of the New Hanover ABC board since last July, told WRAL News that he was unaware of any investigation but that his agency is committed to transparency. The board hasn't found any records so far to reflect the charges that Cowper padded his bill on the Porter's Neck store, Wolfe said.