Former Easley aide indicted

Former attorney for Gov. Mike Easley, Ruffin Poole arrives at a N.C. State Board of Elections hearing in downtown Raleigh on Monday, Oct. 26, 2009. (Chris Seward)
January 21, 2010 8:05:10 PM PST
A federal grand jury has indicted former Governor Mike Easley aide Ruffin Poole on criminal charges.

A wide ranging 51-count indictment includes extortion, money laundering, bribery and mail fraud.

One political expert says he believes it's just one more way federal prosecutors are building their case against Poole's former boss.

"It's staggering that somebody this close to Governor Easley could be engaged in this kind of activity," political strategist Joe Sinsheimer said.

Sinsheimer is a government watchdog. He says he's read the 64 page indictment against Poole.

"If there was any doubt before today that North Carolina state government was for sale, it was put to rest with this indictment," Sinsheimer said.

Poole served as the personal assistant and special counsel to former governor Easley between 2001 and 2009.

During that time, federal prosecutors allege Poole was receiving lavish gifts and benefits from a person described in the indictment as a "Wilmington financier".

While the indictment doesn't name that person, Sinsheimer says it's Lanny Wilson a coastal real-estate developer who allegedly bribed Poole in order to get various permitting issues either sped up or fixed.

The alleged bribes included several trips to Costa Rica and secret investments.

"The extent of what the government knows in this case and the number of charges, it's going to be very difficult for Mr. Poole to fight this," Sinsheimer said.

Sinsheimer also says Poole isn't the only one who should be worried.

"It looks like they have focused on a set of developers and campaign donors that Mike Easley was also accepting goodies from and he has to see the handwriting on the wall tonight," Sinsheimer said. "If Mike Easley read this indictment today, he has to be quaking in his boots."

Poole refused to testify last year before the NC Board of Elections about allegations of campaign finance violations in the Easley campaign - claiming his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself. Several witnesses characterized him as the 'go to guy' in the Governor's office to get things done.

The federal grand jury has been looking into Easley's travel on donors' planes, his below market price purchase of a waterfront lot in Cannonsgate, and how his wife got a lucrative position at North Carolina State University while he was in office.

Easley has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and he has not been charged.

Following Thursday's announcment, North Carolina GOP Chairman Tom Fetzer released a statement.

"No one who has followed this situation for the past several years should be surprised by today's indictment," Fetzer said. "This is yet another dark day in the political history of North Carolina, and it appears that there may be more dark days ahead. North Carolinians must resolve to put an end to the culture of corruption that has risen out of a century of one-party dominance in state government. The North Carolina Republican Party pledges to be a part of that solution."

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