North Carolina State Treasurer Dale Folwell is under investigation for the alleged misuse of state vehicles.

The North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation (NCSBI) began investigating the accusation in March after the state Department of Administration’s (NCDOA) Motor Fleet Management division conducted a compliance review of travel logs associated with state-owned vehicles during July, November, and December 2022.

Folwell has not been charged with any violation.

Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman said they are only at the beginning of the process.

“State law requires that evidence uncovered during a routine audit which may amount to the misuse of state property be reported to the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation,” Freeman said in an emailed statement.  “When this occurs, it is important that the SBI exercise due diligence in determining whether there has, in fact, been misappropriation of state resources.  As is customary upon receipt of this information from an agency, the State Bureau of Investigation is conducting, at my request, an investigation into the use of state vehicles by the State Treasurer.”

Freeman added that, as with all cases involving public officials, it is important for the public to trust that these sorts of matters are appropriately scrutinized.

The NCDOA requested logs associated with seven vehicles leased to Folwell’s office. They reportedly submitted logs for each vehicle except the ones driven by Folwell. Data was then pulled from vehicle tracking devices that showed they were being used for trips on unrelated state business.

Trips were allegedly made throughout the state, including visits to the Biltmore Estate, fast-food restaurants, and medical offices, as being reported by WRAL.

In an emailed statement, NCDOA Communications Director Julia Hegele, said that,”NCDOA Motor Fleet Management began compliance checks in July 2023 for three state agencies:  the Treasurer’s Office, the Department of Revenue, and the University of North Carolina at Asheville. DOA reviewed use of state-owned vehicles assigned to each agency to ensure they were being used in compliance with NC statute. (NC General Statute § 14-247 prohibits personal use of a state vehicle. The law specifies that state-owned vehicles may only be driven by state employees and for official state business.) These state agencies were selected as the first to be examined under this pilot program because they had the fewest state Motor Fleet vehicles assigned to them.”

Folwell said in an emailed statement that his office is cooperating with the investigation.

“We appreciate the media getting these details out because we have been asking for information and clarity for nearly a year,” Folwell said. “We have provided pages of documentation throughout the course of this review. We look forward to continuing to cooperate with the Department of Motor Fleet Management to satisfactorily resolve this issue. I am the treasurer all the time and known for transparency.”

He concluded by saying that he is always thinking about how to do things better and more efficiently on behalf of the taxpayers, including using the state car.

On Thursday afternoon, Folwell issued a press release expanding on his comments on Tuesday. He said that as the keeper of the public purse, he has done his best to safeguard taxpayer money and prudently use and not abuse state resources.

“I learned just yesterday that a state agency investigator believed it necessary to obtain search warrants to look into use of my assigned state vehicle for the many public functions I routinely perform throughout the state, all of which are purposefully planned to accomplish the maximum job duties possible during the trips,” Folwell said. “I have tried to be very careful in following published guidance — including written communications from the N.C. Department of Administration stating that mileage logs were no longer necessary — and the instructions of our internal chief financial officer regarding the use of state vehicles. I enjoy the demanding workload, which involves much coordination to save time and money, and being accessible anytime and anywhere in the state.”

He said his staff is assisting in compiling documentation to fully answer any outstanding questions that might remain after their numerous phone calls and the records they previously submitted to the state agencies conducting the compliance audit. Once that documentation is compiled, Folwell said he will have more to say.

Folwell has been in office since 2017. He ran for the Republican nomination for governor but lost to Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson in the primary in March. He is not seeking re-election as treasurer.

He has been a longtime champion of looking for ways to save taxpayers, State Health Plan members, and the state money. Most recently, he had been sounding the alarm on the SHP being in dire need of emergency funding after it took many hits, including the heavy cost of weight loss drugs, not being reimbursed by the General Assembly for COVID-related expenses, and changes to Medicare Advantage plans.

The investigation is reminiscent of an SBI investigation into former State Auditor Beth Wood.

They conducted an eight-month investigation into Wood’s use of state-owned vehicles before and after the Dec. 8, 2022, accident when she hit a parked car owned by Chris Valverde of Pinehurst, near the intersection of Salisbury and Hargett Streets in downtown Raleigh.

Freeman told Wake County Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway that Wood had used the vehicle between 2021 and 2022 for over a dozen trips to a hair salon, more than 40 shopping trips to Knightdale, and over two dozen trips to spas. 

She pled guilty came on Dec. 15 in Wake County Superior Court to two misdemeanor counts of misusing her state-owned vehicle. 

Wood, a Democrat, was indicted on Nov. 7 by a Wake County grand jury.

Judge Ridgeway sentenced Wood to 12 months of unsupervised probation. She could have faced 240 days in prison as the maximum penalty. Wood also paid $1,064 in restitution as part of a plea agreement. In addition, she agreed to resign from the position on Dec. 15.

Wood, who had been known as the state’s “watchdog” for her department’s audits of financial misconduct, also had good bipartisan relationships across the aisle.

“She has been a valuable colleague and public servant,” Folwell said in a press release reacting to Wood’s original announcement that she would not be seeking re-election. “She always keeps the best interests of the taxpayers in her heart and mind.”

Jessica Holmes, former chair of the Wake County Board of Commissioners, took over as interim State Auditor. Democrat Gov. Roy Cooper appointed her on Dec. 1. Holmes will serve the remainder of Wood’s term, which ends on Dec. 31. She is running in the November General election against Republican nominee Dave Boliek.

Carolina Journal will bring you the latest as the Folwell investigation further develops.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated.