State News

DA to decide on any Easley charges by February

Posted November 12, 2009 1:20 p.m. EST
Updated November 12, 2009 3:40 p.m. EST

— The prosecutor handling the campaign finance case of former Gov. Mike Easley said Thursday he wants to decide by February whether to seek criminal charges against the two-term Democrat.

Rowan County District Attorney Bill Kenerly, appointed to examine the case when Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby recused himself, told The Associated Press he's still getting up to speed with the details presented in the State Board of Elections hearing completed two weeks ago.

A district attorney can seek felonies through a grand jury or misdemeanor charges through a magistrate. Kenerly also could decide not to pursue charges.

"My assumption is going into this it is in everybody's best interest that it be resolved as quickly as possible," Kenerly said in a phone interview.

The board on Oct. 30 ordered Easley's campaign committee to pay $100,000 for failing to report in campaign filings dozens of airplane flights carrying Easley and piloted by a political ally. The board also referred the case to prosecutors to consider whether crimes were committed by Easley or others.

McQueen Campbell, the pilot, testified under oath at the hearing that Easley suggested to him that he falsify flight invoices so that he could be reimbursed for repairs to Easley's Raleigh home that Campbell said reached $11,000. Easley, who left office in January, denied it vehemently to the board.

Easley's campaign did pay Campbell on the invoices. Filing false campaign reports is illegal.

The board asked Willoughby to sort out who was telling the truth and if charges were warranted. Willoughby asked for someone else to step in because he and Easley are longtime friends, his wife used to work for Easley and Easley's son was an intern in Willoughby's office.

Kenerly said he understands Easley and the public want the matter resolved quickly. But he said the investigation will be sandwiched around two upcoming first-degree murder trials he's prosecuting, including one right after Thanksgiving.

"I still have a regular trial schedule," Kenerly said. He said he hoped to make a decision on Easley's case by mid-February.

Kenerly will meet Friday with representatives of other agencies involved in investigating The Mike Easley Committee. He also expects to receive the board hearing transcript the week after Thanksgiving.

He said he likely won't be able to review the case file until the middle of December and hopes to have an idea of how to proceed by late February.

Federal prosecutors have been interested in the activities of Easley and Campbell, who was appointed by Easley to the trustee board at North Carolina State University and became chairman. A federal grand jury has been hearing testimony about a coastal subdivision where Easley and his wife purchased a lot and N.C. State's hiring of former first lady Mary Easley.

Kenerly said he expected federal and state prosecutors would cooperate but declined to comment on the federal investigation.

Willoughby and the U.S. Attorney's Office worked in tandem during the investigations of former Democratic House Speaker Jim Black and Agriculture Commissioner Meg Scott Phipps.

Kenerly, a Republican first elected as a district attorney in 1990, already has announced he won't seek another four-year term in 2010.