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Budget cuts dismantle state fugitive team

A special team of state law enforcement agents that chased violent fugitives has been disbanded in budget-cutting at the state Alcohol Law Enforcement agency.

The Fugitive Apprehension Strike Team was one of the special units that former ALE Director John Ledford created to expand the agency’s reach.

Ledford resigned as director in advance of the Republican takeover in January and made himself an agent, which led to his firing on the ground that it exceeded his authority. Ledford is contesting his firing. He has not yet been replaced.

Cutting the FAST unit is part of the $1.75 million hit ALE took in the state budget this year, which amounted to 20 percent of the money it receives from the state.

Two dozen law enforcement positions will be eliminated or shifted to other funding sources for the next fiscal year, after which the jobs will be abolished unless other funding is found, according to new report to legislators.

Agents who were assigned to FAST have returned to traditional assignments, according to the report by DPS Law Enforcement Commissioner Gregory Baker. The special unit was credited with catching more than 60 violent offenders during its first few months last year.

The budget cuts also will leave some management positions vacant, including that of assistant director. In all, the agency will have about 7 percent fewer sworn law enforcement officers to focus on alcohol, drugs and lottery violations.

Former ALE director contests firing: calls it political

Former state Alcohol Law Enforcement Director John Ledford is contest his firing, contending it was politically motivated and unlawful, even though it was done amid the typical replacement of agency officials whenever there is a change in administrations.

Ledford, a longtime Democratic-connected figure, stepped down from his position as director in advance of the new Republican administration earlier this year. He reassigned himself to the position of an agent stationed in Asheville, where he is from.

New Department of Public Safety Commissioner of Law Enforcement Frank Perry dismissed him, saying Ledford had no authority to take that position, nor to give himself a salary far in excess of what the job pays – nearly $66,000. The department contends Ledford was not a career state employee, and so cannot challenge his dismissal.

Ledford, in a filing with the state Office of Administrative Hearings, contends he was a career employee because he had the job for the preceding two years, and had no disciplinary problems.

Ex-ALE's Ledford to run for Madison sheriff again

Fired former state Alcohol Law Enforcement Director John Ledford will run for sheriff of Madison County, the job he held for three terms before joining ALE.

Ledford confirmed his plans to the Asheville Citizen-Times.

“This last week I’ve had a number of persons in the county reach out to me,” Ledford told the newspaper. “We are announcing our intentsions to run for sheriff of Madison County for 2014.”

On Monday, the state Department of Public Safety released its reasons for terminating Ledford on April 10. It was because in December Ledford – in anticipation of losing his job when the new Republican administration took over in January – demoted himself to agent and took a vacant position in Asheville that he had transferred from Wilmington, and gave himself a salary of $65,887. The position was budgeted at $39,198.

Last year, Ledford told The News & Observer that he intended to finish his career in law enforcement after he left ALE. A state audit earlier in the year criticized him for driving his state car home to Asheville on weekends; but Ledford’s calendars indicated he was attending state meetings on those occasions.

DPS says ex-ALE director Ledford's move was inappropriate

The state Department of Public Safety on Monday disclosed it had "ethical and legal concerns" that prompted it to fire former Alcohol Law Enforcement Director John Ledford after he demoted himself to agent.

Ledford had no legal authority to transfer a vacant position in Wilmington to Asheville, where he is from, and then essentially assign himself to that spot at an "advanced competency" salary level far in excess of what the position pays, according to a letter to Ledford by DPS Commissioner Frank Perry.

Former ALE director dismissed

Former state Alcohol Law Enforcement Director John Ledford has been dismissed from his job as an agent with the agency.

Ledford stepped down as director in late December in advance of the new governor's administration taking over in January and, in most cases, replacing key positions. In hopes of avoiding the ax, Ledford demoted himself to field agent and returned to his home district in Asheville, taking a pay cut from $110,667 to $65,887.

Ledford was dismissed on Friday. The state Department of Public Safety, of which ALE is a part, did not disclose a reason for his dismissal.

Headquarters puts brakes on ALE attempt to buy new fleet

Headquarters has put the brakes on the state Alcohol Law Enforcement’s purchase of a fleet of brand new vehicles.

In between directors, the state Alcohol Law Enforcement put in a purchase order for 31 new vehicles. But ALE was supposed to wait, just like all other divisions in the state Department of Public Safety, for the routine replacement schedule based on mileage.

As a result, headquarters let ALE know that couldn’t happen; the order was canceled and the vehicles were never delivered.

Interestingly, the order was placed on Jan. 4, three days after ALE Director John Ledford resigned from the position. New public safety Secretary Kieran Shanahan has not yet named a replacement. The division is being run by interim director Mark Senter, who was a deputy director.

ALE chief's longtime partner also bailing out

Dome reported yesterday that John Ledford, director of the state Alcohol Law Enforcement, has voluntarily demoted himself to field agent and will return to his home district in Asheville effective Tuesday. Turns out his longtime associate at ALE, deputy director Richard Alan Page, has also asked for and received a demotion and reassignment to Asheville as the agent in charge of that district. Both men are bailing out as the McCrory administration puts its own people in charge of various state departments. Ledford’s salary will drop from $110,667 to $65,887. Page’s will go from $96,581 to $85,000.

ALE director returns to agent job

Hoping to avoid the chopping block where most department heads find themselves with the arrival of a new administration, John Ledford, director of the state Division of Alcohol Law Enforcement, has voluntarily returned to the ranks of field agent.

Auditor, ALE standoff continues

Well, she's thought about it and the answer is -- no.

That's the response from the general counsel for State Auditor Beth Wood in answer to a "cease-and-desist" letter handed Wood on Wednesday as she was about to discuss an Alcohol Law Enforcement report with a legislative committee.

New ALE director took video poker money

The new head of the state agency charged with busting illegal video poker took a $500 campaign contribution from a man who has backed legalizing the gambling games.

John Ledford was sworn in as director of state Alcohol Law Enforcement Wednesday in Madison County, where he has severed as sheriff the last 10 years.

In raising funds for his most recent reelection campaign in 2006, Ledford accepted a $500 contribution from Howard Cole of Weaverville, owner of Cole Vending Co.

Cole has been a leader in the video poker industry's political efforts to win legalization and has been a frequent contributor to the campaigns of Democrats such as former House Speaker Jim Black and fomer Gov. Mike Easley, as well as committees seeking to elect Republican candidates.

Dome was unable to review finance reports from Ledford's earlier campaigns because the offices of the Madison County Board of Elections were flooded by Hurricane Francis in 2004, destroying those records, according to the county's elections director.

Ledford, who worked as an ALE agent for five years in the 1990s before resigning to become sheriff, could not be reached for comment Thursday. He replaces Bill Chandler, who retired suddenly last month following reports in The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer about ALE's handling of firearms, including two missing assault rifles.

Update: Ledford said Thursday afternoon he was aware Cole had ties to video poker when he accepted the donation. Weaverville is in Buncombe County, which borders Madison County.

"I know who he is," Ledford said. "It's a small community. Everybody kind of knows everybody, or at least if you run a business. That's basically the way I know the man."

Ledford said the contribution would in no way affect how he does his job.

"I'll do what I've always done as a law enforcement officer — I'm going to carry out the duties of my office fairly and impartially," he said.

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