News: CJ Exclusives

Easley “go to guy” Poole indicted for bribery, extortion, money laundering

51-count indictment cites failure to disclose investment in Cannonsgate, other coastal properties

Ruffin Poole, former Gov. Mike Easley’s general counsel and top aide, was indicted Thursday by a federal grand jury on 51 corruption counts. The 64-page indictment includes charges of extortion, bribery, racketeering, money laundering, violation of honest-services laws, and monetary transactions involving criminally derived property.

The grand jury is investigating potential corruption surrounding Easley, his close aides, and campaign donors.

The indictment alleges that Poole, called the “go to guy in the governor’s office,” helped Easley donors — some of whom were picked by Easley to plum state regulatory appointments — expedite environmental permits for coastal developments. In return, the indictment says Poole received free flights, gifts, and opportunities to invest in those developments.

Poole failed to disclose those perks, a potential violation of state ethics requirements and federal honest-services laws, the indictment says.

The indictment outlines Poole’s alleged relationship with several other key players in the Easley scandals, including:

McQueen Campbell, a pilot and business owner who served as Easley’s real estate agent at the Cannonsgate development in Carteret County, where Easley purchased a prime coastal lot at a discount. Easley appointed Campbell to the Board of Trustees of N.C. State University; Campbell testified to the State Board of Elections that he provided dozens of free flights to Easley that were never disclosed. Campbell, who resigned from the board last year, was also behind a scheme to create a high-salaried position for Easley’s wife Mary at N.C. State.

Lanny Wilson, referred to as the “Wilmington Financier,” who resigned his seat on the state Department of Transportation board Thursday. Wilson invested $12 million in Cannonsgate. He testified at the Board of Elections that he gave donations to the Easley campaign that exceeded legal limits by writing checks to the North Carolina Democratic Party that were then diverted to Easley’s coffers. Wilson testified that Poole served as a conduit for those contributions.

Randy and Gary Allen, called the “Charlotte Developers” in the indictment, who developed Cannonsgate and were major Easley donors. The Allens hired Campbell, who went directly to Poole if the Allens wanted coastal development permits to be fast-tracked by state regulators, the indictment says. Easley appointed the Allen brothers to the state Wildlife Resources Commission.

The indictment states that Wilson provided Poole free trips to Costa Rica over several years, including four trips in chartered planes and one commercial flight that Wilson paid for. Wilson also paid for a bachelor party in New Orleans for Poole. And Poole was allowed to invest at Cannonsgate; he received a $30,000 profit on a $100,000 investment in less than four months.

None of these gifts and benefits was disclosed on Poole’s annual Statements of Economic Interest, as required by law, the indictment says.

Carolina Journal reported in January that while he was governor, Easley received rental income for more than three years from his home on East Lake Drive in Raleigh and disclosed none of it on his Statements of Economic Interest.

Rick Henderson is managing editor of Carolina Journal.