News: CJ Exclusives

Dozens Involved in Aircraft Provider Program for Perdue, Easley

Flights were reported late, some mixed state and campaign business

Reports prepared by investigator Kim Strach for the State Board of Elections identified “aircraft providers” that were used by the Bev Perdue Committee in the 2006 and 2008 election cycles to offer travel on private aircraft by the then-lieutenant governor in her successful gubernatorial campaign.

Perdue has confirmed that federal investigators are questioning a number of people who were involved with the campaign. On Oct. 22, Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby stated that several persons who were talking with him in a state criminal probe of campaign flights have gone silent, citing the federal investigation.

Last year, the elections board fined former Gov. Mike Easley’s campaign $100,000 for accepting free flights from Raleigh businessman McQueen Campbell and his family, a violation of campaign finance laws. Apparently in reaction to the spotlight on Easley, in 2008 Perdue’s committee began paying for some flights and amending campaign reports.

The free flight issue is far from over, as the recent subpoenas of Perdue supporters show. Investigators may be interested in why Perdue waited so long to report and pay for a number of flights, or if the campaign had no intention of paying for them. Federal prosecutors are interested in Easley’s free flights, his real estate deals, and a lucrative job for his wife at N.C. State University. He has not been charged yet, but several people have been subpoenaed to appear in front of a grand jury.

Moreover, several people implicated in the Easley investigation also had a role in the Perdue campaign.

[Related story, “Perdue did not pay for official travel,” here.]

What follows is an alphabetical listing of known aircraft providers for Perdue (and in some cases, Easley), based on reporting from Carolina Journal, the Raleigh News & Observer, and the State Board of Elections.

• Donald Adams is listed as the aircraft owner for a June 24, 2008 flight for the Perdue Committee. The Perdue Committee reported it as an in-kind contribution of $155. No additional information is available.

• Bruce Brandon, a Greensboro attorney and aircraft owner, provided flights to the Perdue Committee on Oct. 15 and 16, 2008. The committee reported the flights as in-kind contributions of $140 and $181, but no additional information is available.

• Mary Brinn, a New Bern businesswoman, is associated with providing a flight for the Perdue Committee on May 25, 2006. The Perdue Committee didn’t pay for it until Nov. 9, 2009. The flight was in an aircraft owned by Flight Pack LLC of New Bern, a company Brinn owns.

• McQueen Campbell, a Raleigh businessman, provided numerous free flights to Easley. The elections board fined Easley’s campaign a total of $100,000 associated with the illegal unreported flight activity. Campbell also flew Perdue during her campaign for governor, even though he didn’t have FAA certification to operate his airplane and helicopter as an air charter service. Flights occurred in 2008 on Aug. 2, Sept. 10, Sept. 21, and Oct. 29. The Perdue Committee paid Campbell one month after each of the first three flights and three months later for the fourth flight.

• Roy Carroll, a Greensboro developer and owner of Granite Air LLC, provided a flight on Nov. 6, 2008 – two days after Perdue was elected governor. The flight was valued at $887 and the Perdue Committee didn’t pay for it until Dec. 16. No other information about the flight is available.

• Rusty Carter, owner of Atlantic Packaging in Wilmington and a fraternity brother of Easley, flew Easley in 2004 in a corporate plane for campaign purposes and the Easley Committee failed to disclose it. Carter also provided a flight to the Perdue Committee on Oct. 27, 2006. Carter’s Beech King Air flew from Wilmington to Chapel Hill to Cleveland County. It then flew to Chapel Hill before returning to Wilmington. The Perdue Committee did not disclose the flight until May 26, 2009. The total cost of the flight was $1,579, but the committee paid Carter only $966, saying a portion of the flight was official state business. The State Board of Elections recently accepted a $100,000 settlement from Carter for illegal campaign contributions he funneled through his employees to various Democratic candidates.

• Myles Cartrette, a Greenville businessman of and owner of AMC II LLC, gave the Perdue Committee a flight on his Cessna Citation jet on April 2, 2008. The Perdue Committee paid $1,619 for it July 31, 2009.

• Jimmy D. Clark is president and owner of Guy M. Turner Inc., a Greensboro-based heavy rigging and crane service company. He also operates an aircraft under the name of Clark-Griffin Air LLC and provided a flight to the Perdue Committee on Oct. 28, 2008. The Perdue Committee paid $714 for that flight on July 31, 2009. He also provided flights in 2008 on Oct. 7, Oct. 14, and Nov. 25 that the Perdue Committee paid Dec. 16.

• William Edwards, owner of Air Norman LLC in Denver, N.C., provided a flight in a twin engine Cessna for the Perdue Committee on Sept. 22, 2007. The flight apparently began at the Lincoln County Airport and involved stops in Chapel Hill and Salisbury. The committee paid $544 for it on May 27, 2009.

• Mario Fedeli, of the New Bern-based Fedair LLC air charter service, was involved in several flights arranged and apparently paid for by New Bern attorney Trawick “Buzzy” Stubbs. The Perdue Committee paid Fedair directly for a Jan. 2008 flight — valued at $943 — in July 2009.

• Mike Fulenwider, owner of Fulenwider Enterprises in Morganton, paid $1,993 for a charter flight for the Perdue Committee on Nov. 15, 2006. He already had given the maximum $4,000 to Perdue’s campaign at the time. The committee didn’t reimburse him for that flight until Dec. 3, 2009. He also arranged two other flights that the Perdue Committee reported as in-kind contributions from others:

• James Fleming, a Morganton barber, paid $3,048 to an air charter service for a Dec. 8, 2007, flight arranged by Fulenwider, according to a report filed by the Perdue Committee.

• Robert Caldwell, of Morganton, is chairman of the Western Piedmont Community College Board of Trustees and a friend of Fulenwider. Caldwell had some role in recruiting Fleming or submitting his name as the provider of the in-kind donation for the flight arranged by Fulenwider.

• Ola Caldwell, Robert Caldwell’s wife, made an in-kind contribution of $1,194 to the Perdue Campaign associated with the December 2007 in-kind contribution from Fleming, according to records filed by the Perdue Committee.

• Robert Noyes, a Morganton businessman, is connected to an Oct. 11, 2007, flight arranged by his then-employer Mike Fulenwider. The Perdue Committee reported the flight 39 days after it occurred as an in-kind donation paid by Noyes. The aircraft originated in Hickory, picked up Perdue in Chapel Hill to travel to Concord and then apparently flew her to New Bern before returning to Hickory.

• Cameron Harris, a Charlotte insurance executive and owner of BoHaHa LLC, an air charter services company, provided a non-specific flight for the Perdue Committee on Oct. 20, 2008. The committee paid $6,006 on Dec. 29, 2008. On Jan. 12, 2008, the Perdue Committee recorded a donation from Harris of $3,267 as an event expense. Harris, former chairman of the Mecklenburg County Democratic Party, did not return a phone call to CJ seeking clarification of his flying activities on behalf of the Perdue Committee.

• Robert O. Hill Jr. of Kinston and Wilmington, is owner of Hillco, the operator of Britthaven nursing homes. Hill’s company Flying W LLC provided a flight to New York City for the Perdue Committee on Feb. 26 and 27, 2008. The Perdue Committee paid $10,144 on Aug. 7, 2008, for the flights. Perdue appointed Hill to the N.C. State Ports Authority.

• Cress Horne, the owner of US Helicopters in Wingate, flew Mike Easley in a corporate plane to a political event, and the Easley committee failed to disclose it, according to a May 2009 News & Observer report. He also flew Perdue on July 31, 2008. The Perdue Committee paid $1,219 for the flight on June 30, 2009. Easley appointed Horne to the N.C. Aeronautics Council. Horne did not return a phone call from CJ seeking clarification of his flying activities on behalf of the Perdue Committee.

• David King, of Mach 1.0 Aviation LLC in Raleigh, provided flights to the Perdue Committee on April 1, 2006, May 23, 2006, and March 5, 2007. The Perdue Committee paid for them July 1, 2007. King provided another flight on Nov. 7, 2007, and the Perdue Committee paid him $593 on Jan. 12, 2008.

• Terence McEnally III, a Raleigh attorney, made a least four flights in his twin-engine Beech Barron for the Perdue Committee from 2004 to 2006, and the Perdue Committee failed to report them until 2009, when they were classified as in-kind contributions. Reached by phone, McEnally refused to discuss his flying activities on behalf of the Perdue Committee.

• John A. “Sandy” McNeill, CEO of Liberty Healthcare Services in Whiteville, owns aircraft operated under the name McNeill Transportation. He provided flights to the Perdue Committee on July 22, 2006, and Jan. 6, 2007. A flight on May 2, 2008, was listed as a $511 in-kind contribution from Sandy McNeill. Another flight on Oct. 29, 2008, was listed as an in-kind contribution on Dec. 30, 2008. Easley and Perdue appointed McNeill to the UNC-Wilmington Board of Trustees. McNeill did not return a phone call from CJ seeking clarification of his flying activities on behalf of the Perdue Committee.

• Cameron McRae, a Bojangles franchisee from Kinston, flew Easley multiple times for the 2004 campaign in a corporate plane and the Easley committee failed to disclose it or pay for it, according to the News & Observer.

• Lloyd “Mickey” Meekins Jr., owner of Mickey Meekins Farm Equipment Inc., an auction company from Lumberton, is associated with flights for the Perdue Committee on Oct. 19 and 21, 2008. The Perdue Committee paid $232 and $196 for the flights on Dec. 16, 2008.

• Stephen W. Merritt of Cary and the J.D. Hamm Corp., an aircraft hangar construction company, provided flights for the Perdue Committee on May 12 and 14, 2008.The Perdue Committee reported them on Sept. 11, 2008, as $413 and $219 in-kind contributions from the N.C. Democratic Party.

• Chester A. Michael III, the owner of Parkway Ford in Winston-Salem, is listed by the Perdue Committee as making a $794 in-kind donation on Nov. 27, 2007, for a flight by Blue Star LLC of Winston-Salem that took place on the same day. The flight originated in Winston-Salem with stops in Raleigh and Statesville. Norman Wiginton, a Perdue appointee to the N. C. Aeronautics Council, owns Blue Star.

• Dell Murphy, a Duplin County hog farmer, flew Easley in 2003 in a corporate plane to fundraising events in Washington, D.C., and Atlanta, and the Easley committee failed to disclose the flights, according to the News & Observer. He flew Perdue on March 30, 2004, and May 25, May 30, and Oct. 17, 2008. The Perdue Committee didn’t disclose and pay for the flights until 2009 and 2010.

• Bryan Neal of Falcon Airlink, an Asheville-based helicopter company that is no longer operating, provided at least four flights to the Perdue Committee. Perdue Committee records show one flight was paid for the day it took place. The other three were paid several weeks later. A Oct. 3, 2008, flight was paid for Dec. 16, 2008.

• Parker Overton, a Greenville businessman, flew Easley to Florida in 2003 in a corporate plane and the Easley Committee failed to disclose it, according to the News & Observer.

• PA Aviation was involved in a June 14, 2008, round-trip flight from Raleigh to Brunswick County for the Perdue Committee. The committee reported it Sept. 11, 2008, as a $625 in-kind contribution from the N.C. Democratic Party. CJ was unable to find out any further information about PA Aviation.

• Sid Pruitt, a pilot from Wilmington, was involved in a flight for the Perdue Committee on July 7, 2008, in a twin-engine Cessna. No destination information or payment information is available.

• Thomas Seagrave of Seagrave Aviation, a Kinston-based air charter service, provided $4,317 in travel services to the N.C. Democratic Party that appeared to be solely for the benefit of the Easley Committee. If so, Seagrave would have exceeded the contribution limits, according to the News & Observer. The transaction also may be in conflict with the legal ban on corporate contributions.

• James M. “Marvin” Shearin, a businessman from Rocky Mount, provided flights to Perdue on at least seven occasions since 2003. He does not have the FAA approval to operate his aircraft in an air charter service. Some of the trips were for state business, some were for campaign purposes, and some a combination.

• Singh Development LLC, a Michigan-based real estate company, provided a round-trip to Michigan for the Perdue Committee that took place Sept. 12, 2007. The Perdue Committee paid $8,944 for those services to Landmark Aviation in June 2010. Perdue Committee Finance Chairman Peter Reichard arranged the flight, according to a report by elections board investigator Kim Strach.

• Robert Stallings, of Pintail Aviation of New Bern, is associated with a flight for the Perdue committee on May 4, 2008. The Perdue Committee paid $1,628 for it on July 31, 2009.

• Trawick “Buzzy” Stubbs, a New Bern attorney and close friend of Perdue, paid for nearly $30,000 in air charter flights for the Perdue Committee through his law firm. In October 2008 he attempted to convert this gift to an in-kind donation to the N.C. Democratic Party after CJ reported on free flights McQueen Campbell provided for Easley. His attempt failed. After a May 2009 News & Observer report on Easley taking free flights from Campbell and several others, the Perdue Committee started reimbursing Stubbs. Stubbs did not return several phone calls from CJ seeking clarification of his flying activities on behalf of the Perdue Committee.

• Thomas Taft, a Greenville attorney and former state senator, is associated with a flight to the Perdue Committee on July 7, 2008, in an aircraft owned by his law firm. The Perdue Committee reimbursed his law firm $1,310 on July 31, 2009. This may be the same flight associated with Sid Pruitt.

• Hubie Tolson, of National Air Charter of New Bern, provided a “State Fly Around” to the Perdue Committee on May 5, 2008, in a twin-engine Cessna. The Perdue Committee reported it on Sept. 11, 2008, as an in-kind contribution from the N.C. Democratic Party. He also provided a flight on May 30, 2008, in a Robinson helicopter, and the Perdue Committee reported it as a $341 in-kind contribution from the N.C. Democratic Party.

• Jack Trabbuco of New Bern flew Perdue three times in 2005. The Perdue Committee paid for the flights in 2010. He is currently the manager of the Coastal Carolina Regional Airport in New Bern.

• Charles Trefzger, of Chancellor Health Services and Agemark LLC of Hickory, provided flights for the Perdue Committee on Jan. 31, April 3, Oct. 7, and Oct. 20, 2008. Perdue campaign records labeled the first one as state business. The second flight was listed as a $723 in-kind contribution from the N.C. Democratic Party on Sept. 11, 2008. The Perdue Committee paid $369.84 and $354.42 for the other two on Dec. 16, 2008.

• Larry Wagner of Raleigh provided a flight to the Perdue Committee on April 23, 2008. The Perdue Committee paid $393 for it July 1, 2009. He also flew Perdue on Nov. 16, 2007, and the Perdue Committee reported it as a $156 in-kind contribution on that day. That day his plane traveled from RDU International Airport to Chapel Hill, to Greenville, to RDU. Reached by phone, Wagner refused to discuss his flying activities on behalf of the Perdue Committee.

• William. I. Warren, of Warren Oil Co. of Dunn, provided a flight to the Perdue campaign involving actor Andy Griffith April 20, 2008. The committee didn’t reimburse Warren Oil for that flight until June 19, 2009. The Perdue Committee did not pay for other Warren Oil flights on Oct. 1, Oct. 27, Oct. 31, and Nov. 13, 2008, until Dec. 16, 2008. Flights apparently took place in a Beech King Air owned by Warren Oil.

• Vannoy Construction furnished a Beech King Air based in Jefferson to the Perdue Committee on Oct. 2, 2008, for a round-trip flight from Asheville to Raleigh. The Perdue Committee paid $629 for the trip on Dec. 16, 2008.

• Willaim F. Zahn, of Accident Research Specialists and Z Aviation based in Cary, was involved in a flight for the Perdue Committee in a King Air 100 Aug. 6, 2008. The Perdue Committee reported it Sept. 22, 2008, as a $717 in-kind contribution from the N.C. Democratic Party.

Don Carrington is executive editor of Carolina Journal.