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.