Grand jury begins hearing Easley evidence today

Controversy continues to trail Easleys
May 20, 2009 5:34:01 AM PDT
NC State Chancellor James Oblinger confirmed to Eyewitness News that Federal subpoenas were delivered to the school Tuesday regarding the hiring of former North Carolina first lady Mary Easley."All I know is that there is a federal investigation. As I was leaving Holladay Hall, I'm told subpoenas were delivered requesting documents related to her hiring, going back to her original hire date of 2002 when she first started teaching," said Oblinger.

Read the federal subpoenas delivered to NC State

The news comes a day after both UNC system President Erskine Bowles and Oblinger said Easley should step down.

Easley, wife of former governor Mike Easley, has been at the center of a firestorm of controversy over her hiring and the abrupt resignations of top NC State officials.

First, N.C. State Provost Larry Nielsen resigned last Thursday, citing scrutiny of his role in getting Easley her job. She got a three-year contract at $80,000 a year in 2005 and later a 5-year contract worth $850,000 to run a campus speaker series and a public safety center.

"On Sunday, May 10, The News & Observer published a story implying that I was hired as a political favor in exchange for my hiring of Mrs. Easley. This implication is preposterous," said Nielsen in his resignation letter to faculty.

Then on Friday, the president of the North Carolina university system asked for and received the resignation of the chairman of the North Carolina State University board of trustees because of his role in hiring Easley.

UNC President Erskine Bowles said N.C. State board chairman McQueen Campbell told him he had mentioned to N.C. State's chancellor that Mary Easley wanted to change jobs.

Campbell has said he played no part in Easley getting her job.

"I am not resigning because I have acted inappropriately. Both the chancellor and the provost have communicated publicly and independently that the hiring process of Mary Easley was free from any improper influence," Campbell wrote in a resignation letter to Governor Beverly Perdue.

When asked last week about his role in Easley's hiring, Chancellor Oblinger told Eyewitness News he has no recollection of a conversation about her being available or interested in a job with the university. He reiterated previous statements that there was no connection between Easley's hiring and Larry Nielsen's promotion to provost.

When speaking to Eyewitness News on Tuesday, he said he is not feeling pressure to resign and does not plan to step down.

The provost and the chancellor will be called to testify before a grand jury on Thursday about the Easley investigations. But the case surrounding former governor Mike Easley will get started Wednesday morning. The highway patrol will also be called to testify.

Also on Wednesday, The Board of Trustees of North Carolina State University will hold a special meeting by telephone at 5:15 p.m. from the Chancellor's Conference Room on campus. But no one has said what will be the topic of discussion.

North Carolina Governor Beverley Perdue sidestepped reporters' questions on Tuesday when asked if she thought Mary Easley should resign from her job at NC State.

"I'm doing exactly what I said I will do. I'm watching what the university and President Bowles are doing and I am very hopeful that they are going to resolve this quickly and I mean quickly," she said after a signing ceremony for the state's new anti-smoking bill.

Republicans were quick to jump on the Governor's unwillingness to take a stand on the issue.

"The time has come for Governor Perdue to decide whether she is going to be a bystander or a leader. Various calls have been made for the resignation of Mary Easley and I hope that Governor Perdue will also join the calls for accountability. We need strong, committed leadership from both parties to end the culture of corruption in state government. Now is the time for Governor Perdue to show she is serious about offering that leadership," offered North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Linda Daves.

Former Governor Mike Easley and his wife have been under intense scrutiny since he left office. A series of reports in the Raleigh News and Observer have examined his relationships with car dealers, a land deal, and free trips he reportedly took.

Last week, the FBI issued a subpoena for travel records and the State Board of Elections is also investigating.

Captain Everett Clendenin of the North Carolina Highway Patrol told Eyewitness News Wednesday that all of the subpoenaed travel records have been turned over. Federal officials picked up the documents Tuesday afternoon. However, the Highway Patrol did not find the Easleys' 2005 travel records.

A grand jury has spent time looking at an arrangement where Easley's wife and son drove cars provided by car dealerships for free. In a past interview with Eyewitness News, Easley said he owned the cars, but DMV records show Easley bought a used GMC Yukon which his son had been driving two days after our interview.

Mary Easley also drove a car that was characterized as "a loaner" for months.

Published reports also say Easley took at least 25 flights on private jets during his final six years in office. He didn't pay for some of the flights while the value of other trips exceed state campaign contribution limits.

Several of the businessmen who provided the planes to Easley were appointed to the boards of state agencies and universities, The News & Observer reported.

Easley may have taken even more flights on private planes. Records from the Highway Patrol, which travel with and provide security for the governor, are missing for all of 2005 and other significant stretches, the paper reported.

The flights could break ethics and campaign finance rules. North Carolina law requires the disclosure of gifts over $200, and Easley didn't report some of the free flights. The law also prevents corporations from donating to campaigns and limits individuals to giving $4,000 to a candidate in an election cycle. The market value of many of the flights appears to be over $4,000 or enough to top the legal limit when combined with other contributions. It can cost up to $1,300 an hour to charter the kind of private plane the governor needs to travel.

Easley and his wife have refused all interview requests, but in a statement released to the media over the weekend, Easley said he was "comfortable" with the scrutiny of his affairs.

"I am comfortable with the federal authorities collecting and reviewing all records relating to my 30 years of public service to the people of North Carolina," Easley said. "I am confident of the outcome, and we look forward to moving on with our private lives," he wrote.


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