State auditor testifies at Easley hearing

August 20, 2009 2:46:21 PM PDT
State Auditor Beth Wood testified Thursday before a grand jury in the federal investigation of former North Carolina governor Mike Easley and his family. Eyewitness News was outside the courthouse as she arrived just after 8:30 a.m. accompanied by her chief deputy, Wesley Ray.

Federal investigators are looking into whether the former governor used his influence while in office to help his wife get a high paying job at NC State.

Investigators are also trying to determine if he used his power to get free perks and other deals.

As she emerged from the courthouse, Wood said she spent the morning defending why she didn't publicly release an audit into former first lady Mary Easley's job.

Wood told reporters outside the federal courthouse that she did not face any political pressure to keep the audit private but simply wanted to continue working on the report to ensure that it was solid. She said Mary Easley's attorney, Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand, would have disputed the initial findings.

"If he was doing his job and doing it well, he would try to punch holes in the audit I was putting out," Wood said. "If people start to punch holes in my audits, then I have no credibility in my audits."

Wood said Rand never contacted her about the inquiry.

Federal investigators had also asked Wood to testify on whether she had any "business ventures" or financial ties between the Easleys or others mentioned in a federal probe. A spokeswoman for Wood said she had no such ties.

Former State Auditor Les Merritt, a Republican who left office in January, began the audit into Mary Easley's job. Federal investigators have been looking into the $170,000-a-year position. Three university officials have resigned amid the probe.

Wood, a Democrat, said the audit needed more work after the university provided a response to state investigators.

"It did bring up issues that needed further investigation," she said. The auditor's office has since turned over files to federal authorities who requested them as part of subpoenas.

Federal investigators have sent several subpoenas to a variety of state agencies seeking information about former Gov. Mike Easley, his wife's job and their travel.

George Tatum, a former commissioner of the state Division of Motor Vehicles, also appeared at the courthouse Thursday, declining to comment. Tatum, an Easley appointee, headed the DMV under Easley before resigning in July 2007 amid allegations that he helped a friend get a vintage truck title for a replica vehicle, a move that can save owners hundreds of dollars in taxes.

In February 2007, Tatum dismissed without explanation a citation that could have shut down an inspection station owned by McQueen Campbell, an Easley ally who provided the governor with air travel. Federal investigators have subpoenaed DMV records related to Campbell.

Since March, Tatum has worked as a risk assessment coordinator for Fayetteville State University, overseeing campus preparations for emergencies. Jeffrey Womble, a spokesman for Fayetteville State, said the university is aware that Tatum got a federal subpoena but said it was issued to him personally and is not related to the institution.


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