Source: Easley to enter plea

November 23, 2010 5:28:09 AM PST
Sources tell ABC11 Eyewitness News that former Governor Mike Easley is expected to take a plea deal related to an investigation of his campaign finances.The hearing will be held at noon on Tuesday.

If the plea deal goes through, Easley will escape jail time, but he will still be convicted of a felony and lose his law license.

That will apparently be enough for the feds to drop their grand jury investigation examining activities surrounding Easley, but he will still have to answer to State Board of Elections' findings of illegal use of campaign funds.

In October 2009, the State Board of Elections referred the case to Special Prosecutor William D. Kenerly to see if Easley or others broke campaign finance laws and if criminal charges were warranted.

The board fined Easley's campaign committee $100,000 when it determined there was enough evidence to show the committee failed to report dozens of flights that ex-political ally McQueen Campbell said he flew for Easley between 1999 and 2004.

The elections board heard conflicting testimony from Easley and Campbell.

Campbell, who piloted Easley on many flights, testified under oath that Easley suggested to him that he falsify flight invoices so that he could be reimbursed for repairs to Easley's Raleigh home that Campbell said reached $11,000.

Easley denied strongly he ever suggested to Campbell that he submit bogus flight bills. Easley's campaign did pay Campbell on the invoices. Filing false campaign reports is illegal.

The state court system appointed Kenerly to determine whether crimes were committed because Wake County DA Colon Willoughby, who usually handles campaign finance cases, recused himself as a longtime friend of Easley.

Meanwhile, the separate federal investigation examining activities surrounding Easley, a Democrat who left office after eight years in January 2009, and his associates began more than a year ago.

In federal court, ex-Easley aide Ruffin Poole pleaded guilty in April to tax evasion. Prosecutors put aside more than 50 other counts in an indictment accusing him of helping move along state permits for coastal housing projects while receiving gifts and a sizable investment return on two of those subdivisions. Poole agree to cooperate with federal investigators as part of his plea agreement. He has not been sentenced.

The investigation, according to sources, has been stymied by a recent Supreme Court ruling striking down the honest services law under which many corrupt politicians have been convicted.

In the meantime, at the hearing Tuesday there will be some familiar faces who have met in other high profile cases.

Judge Osmond Smith of Caswell County handled the Duke Lacrosse case and prominent attorney Joe Cheshire, who represented one of the Duke Lacrosse players, will represent Easley.

Sources believe that Cheshire and the special state prosecutor, Bill Kenerly, have worked out a deal that will allow Easley to plead guilty to one felony.

Kenerly, the Republican district attorney for Rowan County, did not run for re-election and reportedly plans to retire after the Easley prosecution is wrapped up.

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