WRAL Investigates

State ABC aware probes focus on New Hanover board

Posted January 25, 2011 2:46 p.m. EST

— The state Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission on Tuesday acknowledged that the liquor board in New Hanover County is the focus of state and federal investigations.

Wilmington general contractor Lee F. Cowper faces federal mail fraud charges after investigators say he overcharged for construction on the Porter's Neck ABC store by $43,000 to make up for what he was owed by former New Hanover ABC administrator Billy Williams for work done on Williams' garage.

Cowper's attorney, Joe Cheshire of Raleigh, on Monday 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.

Agnes Stevens, a spokeswoman for the ABC Commission, said Tuesday that the state board is aware of state and federal investigations in New Hanover County but isn't involved in either.

"The parties (under investigation) and the old board are no longer part of the New Hanover ABC operations," Stevens said.

Williams retired a year ago, and members of the New Hanover ABC board have since been replaced.

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, who became chairman of the New Hanover ABC board last July, said Monday that his agency is committed to transparency.