Patrol pressed over records

Perdue declines to release report

Staff WritersAugust 26, 2009 

Gov. Beverly Perdue said Tuesday that she was "deeply disappointed" that state Highway Patrol records involving her predecessor's travel and events can't be found, but she declined to make public an internal investigation into the missing records.

Patrol officials say the internal affairs investigation, the second of two internal probes into the missing records, cleared a patrol supervisor involved in the records' disappearance, Capt. Alan Melvin. But neither the patrol nor its boss, state Crime Control Secretary Reuben Young, will make the report public.

The missing records, "governor's event" forms kept by former Gov. Mike Easley's security detail, involve Easley's travel in 2005. That was an important year for Easley and wife, Mary: She was hired at N.C. State after staffers from the governor's office contacted university officials; the Easleys got a good deal on a coastal lot; and McQueen Campbell, a Raleigh businessman who helped get Mary Easley hired at NCSU, won key development permits from the Easley administration and later bragged about his political clout.

The missing records have created a storm of controversy for the patrol and are now part of state and federal investigations into perks provided to Easley and his family. Records the patrol has found and released have helped show that Easley received free air travel from fundraisers whom he appointed to important positions in state government.

In declining to release the internal report about Melvin's role, patrol officials have cited state law that keeps most personnel matters secret. But the law includes an exemption for the release of personnel records when an agency's integrity is in question.

Perdue did not directly answer a reporter's question as to whether she would order the report released. She suggested she did not have the legal authority to do so.

"I'm not a lawyer," said Perdue, a New Bern Democrat. "I'm trying to follow the rules of the law. ... I'm constantly told this is privileged information."

The patrol conducted two internal investigations. The first was to find out why the 2005 records were missing. It was released last week.

That investigation, summarized in a four-page report, said that a patrol secretary had been told by Melvin in February 2006 to download the records of Easley's events and travel from 2003, 2004 and 2005 to a computer disk to give to him. Melvin headed Easley's security detail from 2003 to 2007.

The patrol secretary, Diane Bumgardner, said that Melvin then told her to delete the records from her computer to "free up space on the computer." She said in an interview with The News & Observer on Friday that she never expressed a problem with the computer's capacity.

The patrol has recovered records from 2003 and 2004 but has produced none of the "governor's event" forms from 2005.

Young said the interview with Bumgardner caused him to request an independent investigation of the missing records and to put Melvin back on administrative duty. Melvin has been reassigned from the technical support unit to the research and planning section.

The patrol has yet to announce who would conduct the independent probe.

The questions raised by the internal investigation about the missing records led to the second investigation, an internal affairs probe into Melvin's actions.

Senate Minority Leader Phil Berger, a Rockingham County Republican, and Joe Sinsheimer, a Democratic consultant turned government watchdog, said the internal affairs investigation needs to be released. They said the internal probe that was made public raises more questions than it answers.

Sinsheimer said the initial probe looked "amateurish."

"It just looked to me like someone going through the motions to say they did it," Sinsheimer said.

Both said that an independent investigation is needed and that the findings need to be made public. "There are all kinds of conflicts of interest that are sweeping through this whole thing, and it just cries out for an independent prosecutor," Berger said.

Perdue said she, too, is having a hard time with the explanations offered so far for the records' disappearance.

"It may have been a mistake," she said, "but it's a mistake that's hard to swallow."

dan.kane@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4861

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