Is ex-governor target of feds?

Published 4:08 pm Thursday, May 13, 2010

Staff Writer

A federal investigation of a onetime aide and counsel to former Gov. Mike Easley is ongoing, confirmed a spokeswoman in the office of U.S. Attorney George Holding.
The confirmation came amid wide speculation that the investigation could further involve Easley, a two-term, Democratic governor who left office in 2009.
Media outlets, including The Associated Press, have reported that Ruffin Poole — Easley’s “go-to guy” while in office — is cooperating with investigators.
Holding’s office has said the investigation is being handled by the State Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service.
“Definitely, they’re going after Easley. It’s very clear to me that he’s the target of their investigation,” said Don Carrington, associate publisher of the Carolina Journal.
Carolina Journal is a publication of the John Locke Foundation, a conservative think-tank in Raleigh.
Carrington has been following Easley for years, but he could offer nothing more than speculation as to where the Poole investigation would go next.
Robin Zier, spokeswoman in the U.S. attorney’s office, could neither confirm nor deny whether the investigation was targeting people besides Poole, who was indicted on 57 corruption counts.
Poole pleaded guilty last month to one count of tax evasion.
At the time, Holding’s office reported that Poole “attempted to evade a portion of his 2005 federal income tax liability by concealing his receipt of $30,000.00 of income he received in connection with his involvement in the financing of Cannonsgate, a high-end community in Carteret County.”
The guilty plea was part of a plea agreement, Holding’s office said in a news release.
“The maximum penalty is up to five years’ imprisonment followed by up to three years of supervised release and a fine of up to $250,000.000,” the release reads.
Zier said the sentencing will be set by notice, adding that, as of Wednesday, there was no notice that a sentencing date had been set.
The indictment papers filed in the Poole case alleged that Easley’s attorney had committed acts of bribery, extortion and money laundering, and they suggested that Poole used his influence to help push projects from which he benefited financially.
A statement published last month by the Raleigh News &Observer shows that Easley continues to support Poole and calls the government’s case into question.
The Poole scandal has had an effect on the political climate in North Carolina.
Some Republicans are using the Poole case as a stick with which to beat Democrats in legislative races heading for the ballot this fall.
“The Democrats are scared, they’re really running scared,” state Sen. Jean Preston, R-Carteret, told the Down East Republican Club last month at a meeting in Chocowinity.
Preston referenced Poole’s issues, casting them as one of the obstacles Democratic lawmakers have to overcome.
Gov. Beverly Perdue has proposed broad, new ethics measures for state government, going so far as to enter her bid for added funding of the State Ethics Commission “to ensure good government practices including an online personal financial interest disclosure system,” a summary of her budget proposal reads.
Yet, the most pressing question — what, if anything, will happen to Easley as a result of the Poole investigation — remains open, political maneuvers and government proposals aside.
Carrington said he continues to follow the Poole case, but he doesn’t have much to publish just now.
“We don’t get real specific information,” he said. “There’s a lot out there that the (feds) can investigate. There’s things that they uncovered that none of the reporters knew about.”
He added, “I wish I knew more.”