News: CJ Exclusives

Corruption Charges Stop at Easley and Top Aide

Top donors were named in court by judge, not charged

At the May 17 sentencing of Ruffin Poole, long-time aide to former Gov. Mike Easley, U.S. District Court Judge Terrence Boyle asked prosecutors why the only people charged in their two-year investigation were Poole and Easley.

The judge mentioned several others by name that he felt could have been charged with illegalities. Court documents show that five other prominent individuals were implicated
in questionable and potentially illegal financial schemes involving Easley and Poole.

The five are Randy Allen and William G. (Gary) Allen, brothers and real estate developers from Charlotte; D. McQueen Campbell, III, a Raleigh Real Estate developer; Lanny Wilson, a Wilmington attorney and real estate investor; and Douglas A. Fox, a Wilmington attorney and former chairman of the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission.

At Poole’s sentencing hearing, Boyle referred to the Allens, Campbell, and Wilson by name, and alluded to “others” who also were involved.

In response to his query, federal prosecutor John Bruce said that public corruption cases are more difficult to prosecute after the U. S. Supreme Court ruled last year that the law against “honest services” fraud involving public officials was too vague.

Boyle sentenced Poole to 12 months and one day in prison and a $30,000 fine. Poole was charged last year with 57 corruption counts involving bribery, extortion, money laundering, and racketeering, but federal prosecutors dropped all other charges after Poole agreed to plead guilty to one count of income tax evasion.

In November, Easley pleaded guilty in state court to a Class I felony for violating campaign finance laws. He was sentenced to probation and a $1,000 fine.

Charges were brought against Easley and Poole because as government officials, receiving improper benefits betrayed a public trust. But recipients require donors, and none of the principal figures who provided those improper benefits have been charged with crimes. Two of the five men profiled below hold active licenses to practice law in North Carolina. A third has retained his position on a prominent state advisory board.

Court filings and testimony at the State Board of Elections hearings in 2009 provided the following information about five men who slipped past prosecutors.

Randy and Gary Allen

The Allen brothers have developed waterfront communities in North Carolina and other states in the Southeast. In 2005, Randy Allen signed a deed to Easley for a prime lot in the Cannonsgate development in Carteret County. News reports later found that Easley actually paid $137,000 less than public records reported.

Poole, who was Easley’s general counsel, was involved actively in facilitating environmental permits for four Allen developments: Cannonsgate, Oyster Harbour in Brunswick County, Summerhouse in Onslow County, and Cutter Bay in Pamlico County.

In 2003, Gary Allen made a $50,000 donation to the N.C. Democratic Party. In sworn testimony to the elections board Allen said he understood the donation would be earmarked for Easley’s 2004 campaign for governor. That process is against the law. The donation structured by Wilson and Poole was associated with Allen’s efforts to secure a permit for a boat ramp at Oyster Harbour.

In June 2005, Easley appointed Randy Allen to a six-year term on the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. Easley previously had appointed Gary Allen to the same commission. Randy Allen still serves on the commission.

The Allens were not charged in state or federal court, and the elections board did not fine Gary Allen.

In 2007, Gary Allen made a $2 million gift to the Kenan-Flagler Business School at UNC-Chapel Hill. At the time, UNC System President Erskine Bowles, who was also an investor in Allen’s waterfront projects, called Gary Allen the “rock star of real estate.”

McQueen Campbell

Campbell, who also is a pilot, admitted to the State Board of Elections that he provided free airplane transportation for Easley’s political campaign committee. The board fined Easley’s campaign committee $100,000 for the unreported flying.

Campbell served as the real estate broker for Easley’s 2005 purchase at Cannonsgate and became the exclusive acquisition agent for the Allen brothers’ projects in 2006.

Easley appointed Campbell to the N.C. State University Board of Trustees in 2001 and reappointed him in 2005. Campbell was elected chairman of the NCSU board in 2007. He resigned in 2009 over his role in helping Mary Easley secure a high paying job at the school.

Campbell was not charged in state or federal court, and was not fined by the elections board.

Lanny Wilson

Referred to in court documents as the “Wilmington financier,” Wilson provided short-term financing for some of the Allens’ developments. Poole asked Wilson if he also could invest some of his money in Cannonsgate.

Wilson allowed Poole to make no-lose investments in Cannonsgate and Summerhouse. Poole netted $55,000 a few weeks after providing funds to Wilson. Poole failed to report the income on tax filings. Boyle referred to the payments as bribes.

Wilson also admitted that in 2004 he gave $10,000 to the N.C. Democratic Party with the understanding the money would be earmarked for Easley’s 2004 campaign, a violation of state law.

Wilson paid for Poole to accompany him on Costa Rica vacations in 2003, 2004, and 2007. In 2005, he flew Poole to New Orleans for a bachelor party and paid for his hotel room. He also threw a separate engagement party for Poole in Wilmington and allowed Poole to use his beach house.

Easley appointed Wilson to the N.C. Board of Transportation in 2001 and again in 2005. Wilson was also an active fundraiser for Gov. Bev. Perdue’s 2008 campaign for governor. After she won election in November 2008, Senate leader Marc Basnight publicly urged Perdue to name Wilson her secretary of transportation. That didn’t happen, and Wilson resigned from the board in January 2010, at the same time Poole was indicted.

Wilson was not charged in state or federal court, and the elections board did not fine him.

Douglas Fox

In 2004 Easley appointed Wilmington attorney Douglas Fox chairman of the state Alcoholic Beverage Commission, a full-time position. Poole became Fox’s point of contact in the governor’s office. Through his position, Fox had access to free tickets for concerts at the Walnut Creek Pavilion in Raleigh. Poole asked Fox for free tickets and Fox provided them.

Poole was married in Staunton, Va., in June 2005. Fox arranged for his father, a U.S. Navy veteran, to travel to South Carolina and purchase approximately $600 of liquor from a Naval PX store. The liquor then was given to Poole as a gift for use at his wedding reception. Neither Fox nor his father was reimbursed.

Perdue asked Fox to resign as the ABC chairman in 2009 when a news story revealed that shortly after Barack Obama was elected president, Fox had distributed an email with an altered photo depicting a watermelon patch outside the White House.

Fox practices law in Wilmington. He has not been charged with any crimes.

Law licenses

The North Carolina State Bar is the state agency responsible for regulating the practice of law in North Carolina.

After pleading guilty to a felony last April, public records show Poole consented to an interim suspension of his law license by the Disciplinary Commission of the State Bar. Easley also consented to an interim suspension of his law license after his guilty plea in November. In each case, the Bar ruling cited that their crimes were a “criminal offense showing professional unfitness.”

But professional misconduct does not have to stem from criminal activity. Bar rules state it is professional misconduct for a lawyer to “engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.” It is also professional misconduct to “state or imply an ability to influence improperly a government agency or official.”

Both Wilson and Fox have active North Carolina law licenses.

State Bar Counsel Katherine Jean confirmed to Carolina Journal that Easley and Poole had received interim suspensions, but said it would be improper for her to comment further. She also said it would be improper for her to comment on any other attorneys associated with the Easley and Poole investigations.

Don Carrington is executive editor of Carolina Journal.