Poole expected to surrender this week

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 24, 2010 6:25:50 AM PST
Sources tell ABC11 Eyewitness News that former aide to Governor Mike Easley Ruffin Poole is expected to surrender himself to federal authorities this week.

Lawyers are said to be working out the details of how and when it will happen.

Poole, 37, was indicted by a federal grand jury last Thursday for 51 counts of alleged wrongdoing - including extortion, money laundering, bribery, and mail fraud.

Click here to read the full indictment (.pdf)

The indictment chronicles "Charles Ruffin Poole's rapid rise from recent law graduate to 'go to guy' in the Governor's office. It even says Easley's political supporters referred to Poole as "The Little Governor," because of his heavy influence.

The indictment says Easley told supporters to contact Poole if they needed assistance from his office, and he became a main contact between them and various executive branch agencies - including those issuing environmental permits for developments and the Department of Transportation.

The indictment alleges a "Wilmington financier" not identified by prosecutors sent $255,000 in payments to Poole from 2005 to 2007 as the return on financing from the Cannonsgate development in Carteret County and another coastal subdivision in Onslow County to a construction company owned by Poole's family. Poole allegedly invested $100,000 in each project - appearing to make at least 25 percent returns quickly on his investments.

At the same time, Poole also benefited from the financier, who paid for a chartered jet that took him, Poole and others on an annual trip to Costa Rica, the indictment said. The financier also paid for much of Poole's New Orleans bachelor party in 2005 and helped pay for an engagement party in Wilmington, prosecutors allege.

Easley is not charged in the indictment, and has maintained he did nothing wrong.

The indictment marks the first criminal charges filed in a wide-ranging probe by both state and federal investigators related to Easley, a Democrat who served eight years until January 2009 due to term limits.

The maximum punishments for the felonies filed against Poole add to up hundreds of years in prison and millions of dollars in fines.

Joe Cheshire, Easley's attorney, said in a statement issued Thursday night that while Gov. Easley has no knowledge of the conduct described in the indictment, Easley "has faith in Ruffin Poole and finds it hard to believe that he would ever intentionally violate the law."

Hours before the release of the indictment, state Board of Transportation member and developer Lanny Wilson of Wilmington resigned from the board. Wilson had been named earlier as a Cannonsgate investor and the indictment said Easley appointed the financier to the transportation board in 2001, just like Wilson was.

Writing to Gov. Beverly Perdue, Wilson said he was stepping down after nine years to avoid "any further unnecessary distractions" as the governor reforms the board and Department of Transportation. A woman answering the phone at the law firm of Wilson's attorney said the lawyer wouldn't respond to messages until Monday.

The indictment increases scrutiny around Easley, who bought a lot with his wife in Cannonsgate in 2005 and received a $137,000 discount, according to documents. An Easley attorney didn't respond to messages seeking comment.

The indictment said Poole knew state ethics rules about identifying financial relationships and gifts received but never mentioned many of those contained in the charges in his annual financial disclosure report.

"Likewise, at no point did Poole request advice on whether to disclose his investment in Cannonsgate," the indictment read.

The indictments outlined a series of situations where Poole, 37, was allegedly approached by developers seeking assistance on getting state and federal permits approved.

In May 2005, McQueen Campbell, a close political ally of Easley, wrote Poole for help in expediting a waterline distribution permit at Cannonsgate so that the project remains on time. In less than an hour, Poole e-mailed Campbell by saying "I will get to work on these issues."

Two months earlier, during the bachelor party weekend in New Orleans, Poole asked to be allowed to invest in the Cannonsgate financing because "he had lost some money in the 'dot-com bust' and needed to make up for his earlier losses," the indictment said.

The financier ultimately agreed and Poole sent a $100,000 check to Wilson in September 2005, it said. By December, the financier had sent $130,000 to Poole Construction, from which Poole later transferred the money to himself, according to the indictment.

A Raleigh lawyer representing Gary Allen, identified previously as a former Charlotte resident who helped developed Cannonsgate, has said development permits for it and other projects were approved in a lawful manner.

The State Board of Elections already has acted against Easley's campaign committee, ordering it Oct. 30 to pay a $100,000 penalty for failing to disclose dozens of flights taken by Easley while he was a candidate and piloted by Campbell. A local prosecutor is now examining whether to file criminal charges against Easley or others related to the campaign finance violations.

Poole declined to testify before the elections board during a public hearing, citing his right not to incriminate himself. Evidence in the hearing showed Poole was involved in fundraising for Easley's campaign.

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