Request rejected on probe

April 9, 2002 

State Rep. Mark Crawford insists he knows how to keep a secret, but the State Bureau of Investigation says that's not good enough when it comes to the continuing investigation of the N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles.

Crawford, a Black Mountain Republican, asked this month for a look at a secret SBI report on its investigation of corruption allegations involving DMV enforcement operations in Western North Carolina.

Portions of the report have been leaked to the press, prompting a string of stories involving allegations of selective enforcement, gifts to trucking inspectors and ticket fixing.

The SBI responded to Crawford on Monday, saying it would be happy to talk to him about any questions he might have related to his "legislative concerns." But if he thinks he's going to get a look at the DMV case file, he's mistaken.

"This particular case you have inquired about is an ongoing criminal matter which could be compromised by agreeing to your request," SBI director Robin Pendergraft wrote.

As Crawford sees it, the problem is that portions of the case have already been compromised by selective leaks. Now he has concerns about how the investigation is being handled.

With news reports that the investigation has been going on since 2000, Crawford's constituents have begun to pepper him with questions about just what is going on in the case.

Crawford says he doesn't plan to take "no" for an answer.

"I made it clear that I would breach no confidentiality," Crawford said. "The fact that it is a confidential document does not mean that I am not one of those individuals authorized to see it."

Crawford said he was miffed that he had trouble even getting a response to his request. He first wrote the SBI on March 7 and, when he got no response, wrote state Attorney General Roy Cooper on March 15.

Crawford cited state law to back up his request. The SBI said in its letter that it referred the matter to its legal department, which countered with another legal citation setting forth the confidentiality of criminal investigations.

"It is the opinion of our legal counsel that NCGS 120-19 [state law] does not provide legal authority for you as an individual legislator to review this active SBI criminal investigation file," Pendergraft wrote.

A spokesman for Cooper, a Democrat, said state law enforcement officials take the case very seriously but cannot share what they know with Crawford or anyone else outside the investigation.

"We wish we could say more but all we can say at this point is that the case is under review by the Special Prosecutions section of the Department of Justice," Attorney General spokesman John Bason said.

The SBI apparently shared the report with three district attorneys in the western part of the state, and they in turn handed the report off to the attorney general's office about eight months ago.

Crawford questions why there has been no action since then and suggests that there may be a coverup under way.

"I do not believe at this point in time that things have been rectified or done correctly," Crawford said Tuesday. "My whole objective is to make sure that if malfeasance has taken place, that it is correctly prosecuted and folks bear the burden for what they have done."

He says there's an easy way to clear the air: Let him see the file. He promises not to tell what's in it.

By staff writer Irwin Speizer, who can be reached at (803) 329-2107 or at ispeizer@newsobserver.com.

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