A top state official and a long-serving mayor weighed in four years ago on behalf of a proposed ethanol plant that has recently emerged at the center of a federal corruption investigation.
Records subpoenaed by federal investigators — and released to The News & Observer in response to a request under the state’s public records law — show that in September 2005, Norris Tolson, then the head of the state revenue department, and Tom Richter, the long-time mayor of Washington Park, called the head of the state environmental agency to urge speedy approval of permits for an ethanol plant in Beaufort County.
Both men said in interviews that they were unaware of Agri-Ethanol Products’ plans to bribe a different state official and that they were only asking the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources to give the permit fair consideration. Neither Tolson nor Richter were named on a subpoena delivered to the state environmental agency.
Boyce Allen Hudson, a former official with the state agency, pleaded guilty last week to extortion and money laundering charges arising from the case.
An e-mail message produced in response to the subpoena shows that Tolson and Richter got the attention of Bill Ross, secretary of the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Ross sent an e-mail message to a subordinate, asking her to update Tolson and Richter about the project.
A federal prosecutor said during Hudson’s plea hearing last week that investigators got wind of Hudson’s actions when company officials began boasting to potential investors that they had political connections. Officials at the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources have said that Hudson had no influence on the permits, which they say were decided on the facts.
More after the jump.Document(s):bill ross e-mail.pdf