Easleygate: ‘It never ever happened’

by Jim Longworth

Last week a cast of characters lacking in character paraded in front of the State Board of Elections to tell what they knew about Easleygate. Some were forthcoming, while others suffered acute memory losses. The latter group included Gary Allen, who said he had no recollection as to the circumstances surround- by Jim ing two $50,000 checks he wrote to the state Democratic party at exactly the same time that Longworth he was trying to obtain a permit for his coastal columnist development.

Former Gov. Mike Easley’s campaign treasurer Dave Horne also displayed significant need for ginkgo biloba. He testified that even though he oversaw all finance reporting, he relied on others to supply him with information.

And then there was Michael Hayden, Easley’s chief fundraiser, who couldn’t recall how the money he raised for the governor might have been funneled to or through the state party. And so, with bean counters Moe, Larry and Shemp showing solidarity for their former boss, some observers were surprised when a fourth stooge started to actually spill the beans.

McQueen Campbell, former Chairman of the Trustees at NC State University and a confidant of Easley, the man who appointed him, admitted to having flown big Mike around the state in a private plane, but never invoiced the campaign for the cost of those trips, which totaled over $87,000. It gets better. It also appears that Easley had arranged for repairs on his home to be charged to the campaign, reported as “travel expenses.” I’m no CPA, but unless Ealsey’s house flew off to the Land of Oz with Dorothy, then the former governor may be in some deep doo doo.

Yet, in response to Campbell’s testimony, and to the mounting charges of campaign finance violations, Easley proclaimed, “It never ever happened.”

The SBE didn’t buy it, and decided to fine Mr. Easley’s campaign $100,000. They also referred the matter to prosecutors for further probing. If it can be proven that Easley authorized or arranged for these violations, then he will pull time in prison. And if that happens, it will be like Al Capone going to jail for tax evasion instead of for murder. That’s because Mike “Scarface” Easley’s other transgressions make unreported plane rides look petty.

Anyone remember Easley’s edict that we peons must conserve water during a severe drought? While our lawns were dying, the greens at Easley’s country club were well hydrated. In fact, the Old Chatham Golf Club received special dispensation to pump 450,000 gallons of water per day onto their course. Oh yes, and the club waived the governor’s dues, which totaled $50,000.

And then there was the tax money spent on maintaining a special residence for state troopers so they could be close to the Easleys during the couple’s many weekends at their Southport estate. Speaking of resort properties, there was also the little matter of how Easley was able to purchase a marina lot in Carteret County for $700,000 under market value, a transaction brokered by none other than McQueen Campbell. And that takes us back to NCSU where Campbell helped manufacture a job for Easley’s wife Queen Mary, whose salary was suddenly raised by 88 percent just before Mike left office.

Before that, however, you might recall that Easley sat idly by in the aftermath of Katrina, and did nothing to prevent price gouging at the gas pumps following a broken pipeline in the Gulf of Mexico. Of course, he and Mary had plenty of jet fuel to get down to Southport so he could relax while other governors were actually governing.

And there was the Dell deal that Easley pushed through the legislature, giving most lawmakers less than a day to review.

Thus far, no one can prove that mediocre Mike knew the magnitude of Dell’s scam, but had he not rushed the vote, we might have had time to learn that our only competitor for the new plant (Virginia) had offered one tenth our bid.

I realize that many of Mike’s misdeeds were not crimes, and that trying to prove the criminality of others might be tough. Still, I can’t help but reflect back on Easley’s emphatic retort, “It never ever happened.” If only that were true of his term in office.

Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Fridays at 6:30 a.m. on ABC 45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 10 p.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).