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Former NC Gov. Mike Easley Faces Grand Jury
Sunday, 20 September 2009

Easley land permits draw grand jury focus
A federal grand jury wants to hear from two state environmental officials who handled permits on the Cannonsgate land project, a development in coastal Carteret County where former Gov. Mike Easley acquired a soundfront lot in 2005. The officials have been asked to appear today. Questions have swirled around the permitting process since reports in The News & Observer in May showed that real estate broker McQueen Campbell, a friend of Easley, bragged in writing that political contacts by him and the land's marketer, Gary Allen, helped secure the wastewater treatment plant permit in half the one year's time he said it should have taken.

Easley land permits draw grand jury focus
By J. Andrew Curliss
Staff Writer

A federal grand jury wants to hear from two state environmental officials who handled permits on the Cannonsgate land project, a development in coastal Carteret County where former Gov. Mike Easley acquired a soundfront lot in 2005.

The officials have been asked to appear today.

Questions have swirled around the permitting process since reports in The News & Observer in May showed that real estate broker McQueen Campbell, a friend of Easley, bragged in writing that political contacts by him and the land's marketer, Gary Allen, helped secure the wastewater treatment plant permit in half the one year's time he said it should have taken.

In an interview, Campbell would not say what he meant by political contacts, other than to say he knew "who to call to get all these things done."

State records show the plant permit at Cannonsgate was granted faster than most, but not to the degree Campbell was claiming. It was part of an express review available to all developers. It was granted in 64 days. The average for similar-sized plants was about 110 days.

The main state official who handled the permit, Nathaniel Thornburg, has said in an interview that he recalls no phone calls, contacts or other influence on the permit. The state's files on the permit do not make mention of political influence. Thornburg has been summoned to the grand jury.

Jim Bushardt, another state environmental official, was also issued a subpoena and officials said he is expected to be at the courthouse today.

The Easley cabinet official in charge of the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources at the time, Bill Ross, said in an interview this spring that he did not recall any contacts about the development. He added that it would not have been unusual for a developer or someone from the governor's office to check up on a permit that was in the process.

"I don't remember any calls from [Easley] or anybody else about those things," Ross said at the time. He was not listed in the subpoenas that have been made public.

The N&O reported last week that Easley and his wife, Mary, accepted a previously undisclosed $137,000 discount on their lot. It was given by R.A. North Development, a company that developed the Cannonsgate project and is run by Randy Allen, who is Gary Allen's brother.

The Easleys signed a contract showing a sales price of $549,880, and that amount has been listed publicly as the sale price. Previously, there had been scrutiny of the Easley deal because that price is lower than what others nearby paid.

But it turns out that the Easley's then accepted the 25 percent "seller discount" at the closing, which was handled by mail, according to new records and interviews. The former governor had maintained for years that he got no special deals and a spokesman said last week the governor had been assured of that.

Authorities say in the documents the grand jury is investigating a possible crime. One subpoena has asked for state environmental officials to turn over all documents relating to Cannonsgate permits and licenses. Authorities also want any communications between DENR and a number of "relevant parties," most of them people close to Easley.

The relevant parties include Randy Allen; Gary Allen; Cannonsgate Investment LLC; R.A. North Development; Mace Watts, an agent who was involved in the sale of the Easley lot; Lanny Wilson, an Easley campaign donor who helped finance the development; and Steve Stroud, a Raleigh real estate broker who sold the land to R.A. North for the development.

The Easleys and a number of people in their inner circle are also listed as relevant parties. They include Cari Boyce, Easley's spokeswoman; chief of staff Franklin Freeman; fiscal adviser Dan Gerlach; campaign fundraiser Davis Horne; longtime friend and former chief of staff John Merritt; legal counsel Ruffin Poole; and longtime top aide Susan Rabon.

http://www.charlotteobserver.com/topstories/story/953654.html

 
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