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Conti defends Wilson bridge

In one of his last public acts as state transportation secretary in the waning days of Gov. Bev Perdue's administration, Gene Conti went to Wilmington on Dec. 8 to preside over a bridge-naming ceremony in honor of Lanny Wilson, a Democratic Party fundraiser who was forced to resign from the state Board of Transportation in 2010 amid state and federal investigations that brought down Perdue's predecessor, former Gov. Mike Easley.

Conti defended Wilson amid criticism that he didn't deserve the honor because of his role in the events that led to former Gov. Mike Easley's felony conviction on a campaign finance charge.

Former Easley aide back in North Carolina to serve time

From AP: A man who served as a top aide to former Gov. Mike Easley is back in North Carolina after serving several months of his tax evasion sentence at a Florida prison.

The federal Bureau of Prisons said Monday records show Ruffin Poole is living at a halfway house in the Raleigh area.

Bureau spokesman Chris Burke said Poole returned three weeks ago after being at a minimum-security prison in Pensacola, Fla., since July. Poole is projected to leave the prison system in early June but will have two years of supervised release.

The 40-year-old Poole received a one-year and one-day sentence for pleading guilty before his trial was to begin on public corruption-related charges. Poole's case stemmed from an investigation of Easley.

Poole's attorney didn't return a phone message Monday.

Former Easley aide disbarred

Ruffin Poole, a senior aide to former Gov. Mike Easley, has been disbarred from practicing law in North Carolina by the State Bar.

Poole pled guilty in April in U.S. District Court to one count of tax evasion as part of a federal investigation into the Easley administration. He was ordered to serve a year in prison and pay a $30,000 fine.

He had acknowledged using his position to gain environmental approvals for coastal developments and in return he received prime investment opportunities in two coastal developments.

His law license had been suspended in April 2010 and he was disbarred on July 15th of this year.

Sentencing set for "little governor" Ruffin Poole

Ruffin Poole, a longtime aide to former Gov. Mike Easley who was described in court documents as the "little governor," is set to be sentenced on an income tax evasion guilty plea next month.

Poole entered the guilty plea one year ago this week in federal court, and pledged cooperation in what was then a wide-ranging probe of Easley.

There were mixed views at the time about whether Poole's deal would lead to further indictments or charges.

Poole struck the plea bargain in exchange for prosecutors' dropping of more than 50 counts of corruption-related charges issued against him in an indictment.

Then, late last year, Easley entered a guilty plea in state court on a felony campaign finance charge in a three-way deal that halted the federal probe without any other federal action against him.

Easley paid a $1,000 fine, and was not sentenced to any active jail time as a part of the plea.

Poole faces up to five years in prison on the income tax charge, though it is unclear if he will receive active jail time.

The sentencing is set for May 4 at 2 p.m. in federal court before U.S. District Court Judge Terrence W. Boyle.

Too Young for senior moments on e-mail

The state's secretary for Crime Control and Public Safety might want to stock up on some gingko.

Reuben Young appeared to be struggling with memory loss last month as he was questioned as part of a lawsuit filed by numerous media organizations, including The N&O and The Charlotte Observer, against former governor Mike Easley over his administration's systematic deletion of e-mails.

During his sworn deposition, Young, who served as Easley's chief legal counsel, answered with a variation of "I do not recall" more than 30 times, according to a transcript.

Under state law, the e-mails of government employees are public records. However, in 2004 Young and Ruffin Poole drafted a policy for the governor's office that allowed staff members to erase any e-mail messages they deemed to "no longer have administrative or reference value."

Asked if he could remember what statute or case law he consulted to come to the interpretation that e-mails could be erased, Young answered: "I don't specifically recall."

Asked if he ever sent or received messages from a secret e-mail account used by Easley, the address for which was "Nick Danger" spelled backwards, Young said: "Certainly not that I can recall."

Asked if Easley ever gave copies of e-mails from his secret e-mail account to review for potential release under public records requests, Young answered: "I don't specifically recall that, but he may have."

Did Young remember reviewing requests from the media regarding documents related to Easley's undisclosed flights on private aircraft? "I can't recall if I saw that request or not," Young replied.

Did he ever communicate with First Lady Mary Easley through her secret e-mail account? "I don't know if I did or not. I could have," Young replied.

It is little wonder that in 2008, after a fired public affairs officer said she had been ordered to delete all e-mail to or from the governor's staff every day, Easley tapped Young to lead his internal investigation into whether the state's public records law had been violated.

The very next day, Young issued a letter stating there was absolutely no evidence of an effort to delete e-mail messages.

Earlier this year, former press secretary Renee Hoffman testified under oath that Easley ordered his staff to delete e-mail messages so they would not become public.

Dome hopes Young, who now supervises the troubled Highway Patrol and other law enforcement agencies, has better luck remembering where he left his car keys.

Fetzer has list of Democratic scandals at the ready

The Republicans made it clear that they plan to make the Democratic scandals in Raleigh an issue in the fall elections.

"North Carolina has become a national embarrassment and a laughing stock," state GOP Chairman Tom Fetzer told the state Republican convention in Winston-Salem on Saturday.

He entertained the 800 delegates with a litany of the Democratic woes, Rob Christensen reports.

"Lets for a minute review the Democrats' record on ethics," Fetzer said.

"We've got Meg Scott Phipps, the former commissioner of agriculture, a Democrat, just got out of jail. You have Jim Black, speaker of the House, Democrat, in jail. You have Congressman Frank Ballance, Democrat, in jail." (Actually he is no longer in jail.)

"Son of a congressman, Gary Ballance, in jail. Kevin Geddings, the lead lobbyist for the Democrats on the lottery, in jail. Thomas Wright, former House member, Democrat, in jail. Michael Decker, former House member, a Republican who Jim Black paid $50,000 in cash in the bathroom in an IHOP to become a Democrat, in jail — let that be a lesson.

"Ruffin Poole, Gov. Easley's top aide indicted 57 times," Fetzer said. "He pleaded guilty to one account of tax evasion and everyone knows what is coming next. Mike Easley has one foot on the banana peel and the other in the penitentiary somewhere."

Former DOT Sec. Lyndo Tippett subpoenaed

Lyndo Tippett, the former secretary of the N.C. Department of Transportation, has been issued a subpoena regarding the probe of the administration of former Gov. Mike Easley.

Tippett declined to comment when reached at his Fayetteville office on Monday, other than to confirm he had received the subpoena.

DOT released a copy of a federal subpoena sent to an employee last week that asked for documents showing whether any payoffs or gifts were made or received, to or from the "relevant parties" listed.

The list of names listed as "relevant parties" includes Tippett, Easley; his wife, Mary; Ruffin Poole; Easley's campaign committee; and former Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand.

Poole, a close aide to Easley, was indicted on 57 corruption counts related to actions while working for the former governor. He pleaded guilty to a single count of income tax evasion in April in a deal with prosecutors that requires him to cooperate with their ongoing investigation.

In the subpoena sent to DOT last week, prosecutors asked for documents and information about Law Enforcement Associates, a Raleigh company where Rand serves as board chairman. Tippett, a longtime LEA investor, joined the company's board last year.

Two former LEA board members have accused Rand of scheming to manipulate the company's publicly traded stock. Rand has denied the accusation. In December, The News & Observer reported that state agencies bought about $200,000 in sophisticated spying equipment from LEA, some of it through no-bid contracts.

Former Division of Motor Vehicles commissioner George Tatum also owned more than 30,000 shares of LEA stock at the same time the agency he headed bought at least $64,124 in products from the company without seeking competitive bids.

Rand, who was appointed by Gov. Bev. Perdue as chairman of the state parole board as he resigned his senate seat at the end of last year, could not be reached for comment in recent days about whether he has also received a subpoena.

Tippett and Tatum, both close political allies of Rand's from Fayetteville, were appointed by Easley. Tatum resigned as the DMV's commissioner in 2007, but is still on the state payroll as the director of emergency management at Fayetteville State University. He could not be reached for comment Monday.

Dome Memo: Witness for the government

GUILTY, HE SAID: Ruffin Poole, the former aide to Democratic Gov. Mike Easley, pleaded guilty to a single count of income tax evasion, setting the stage for him to begin cooperating with an investigation into Easley's administration. The so-called "Little Governor" is now the big cooperating witness.

THEIR TURN: Gov. Bev Perdue released her budget proposal for the coming fiscal year and included deep cuts to education to mitigate a deficit that is already more than $700 million. The document is now about as useful as a tire chuck because the legislative Democrats who write the budget say they plan to re-write pretty much the whole thing.

CASH FLOW LOW: The Democrats running for U.S. Senate are finding it a little tough to raise a lot of money. Only Cal Cunningham has enough to go on TV. Elaine Marshall and Ken Lewis have raised some cash, but not enough to fight it out on the evening news commercial breaks. Meanwhile, Republican Sen. Richard Burr has more than $5 million, meaning he's a formidable opponent for the candidate who emerges from the Democratic primary.

IN OTHER NEWS: Republican Pat McCrory endorsed two candidates in the same race. Perdue unveiled a plan for reducing the state's prison population. A state association of chiropractors is hoping to bump into President Barack Obama, who is vacationing this weekend at the same Asheville hotel where the chiropractors have scheduled a conference.

What Poole might know about missing travel records

In assessing the guilty plea by Ruffin Poole, and its possible effects for former Gov. Mike Easley, an N&O editorial today wondered: "Perhaps Poole can even solve the mystery of what happened to Easley's travel records for 2005 — records whose disappearance would have to be called convenient for the former guv."

That issue, for those who don't remember, involved records of travel and events by Easley that were turned over to the N&O last year by the state Highway Patrol, J. Andrew Curliss reports on the Investigations blog. The N&O requested records for 2003 to 2009.

Many were provided, but all of 2005 was missing.

And that was a big year for Easley. He traveled with McQueen Campbell at least once to Florida on a fishing trip; it's unclear where he stayed, or who paid. His wife got a job at N.C. State University. And Easley acquired a lot at Cannonsgate — a waterfront parcel that came with a $137,000 discount at closing.

After much controversy about the missing year of records, there seems to be no answer for what happened to them.

But might Poole know?

Poole's plea a boon to prosecutors

POOLE JOINS WITNESS LIST: Ruffin Poole, an inner-circle aide to former Gov. Mike Easley, pleaded guilty Monday to a single count of income tax evasion in an abrupt deal that spared him a trial on 57 charges of corruption.

Ruffin Poole joins a growing group of friends of former Gov. Mike Easley who are cooperating with investigators. Poole's guilty plea Monday gives federal prosecutors a high-ranking official who can describe the private side of the ex-governor's administration. Prosecutors said the guilty plea benefits their investigation that has focused on Easley supporters who received help from his administration. (N&O)

AND THE LOSER IS: Gov. Bev Perdue plans to release her budget proposal this morning, and the big question is who and what will get the ax.

Budget forecasters agree that the state is facing a deficit for next year that has already reached $788 million, nearly 4 percent of the state's general fund. The state is still counting all those tax returns from people and businesses that were mailed April 15, and officials generally accept that the news on state revenue is likely to get worse.

That means something or someone in state government is going to get cut. (N&O)

SPEND MONEY, LOSE WEIGHT: The Legislative Task Force on Childhood Obesity on Monday announced 14 recommendations to help make healthy living a way of life for children, from their daily activities to what they eat and do in school. That would save money on health costs in the long run. But in the short run, the next step is to turn the proposals into laws that would cost the state millions of dollars. (N&O)

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