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Former Gov. Mike Easley gave sworn testimony Wednesday about free flights, the use of a vehicle and campaign-funded repairs to his home that directly contradicted earlier statements in a state Board of Elections hearing.
Easley, a two-term Democratic governor who left office in January, said he never instructed supporter McQueen Campbell to submit false invoices that led to his campaign's paying $11,000 for repairs to Easley's Raleigh home. He said he believed that Campbell had been properly reimbursed for dozens of times he flew Easley on campaign and personal trips.
Easley's five-hour appearance on the third day of the board's hearings was a rare sight: a former governor being questioned about possible crime by five members of a state board, three of whom he appointed.
Easley grimaced when asked about Campbell, his longtime friend, political ally and pilot. Campbell had testified Monday that he flew Easley without getting paid and fixed Easley's house in Raleigh, then had to pester the governor for reimbursement -- which eventually came from campaign money.
Easley conceded that his campaign likely had not met its responsibility under state law to properly pay for flights that Campbell had provided, flights valued by Campbell at more than $100,000.
Board Chairman Larry Leake said he believes testimony showed the law was broken in that area: "Clearly, there was a violation."
Campbell's planes are owned by companies. Easley's campaign should have paid the companies for the flights because North Carolina bans corporate contributions. And those payments should have been disclosed. Even had Campbell owned the planes personally, the value of the donated travel far exceeds legal limits.
Easley said he had thought Campbell was being paid all along, and was assured of that even as The News & Observer raised questions before stories in May that detailed free flights from supporters.
"It didn't get to be an issue until April or May, when McQueen Campbell was in the paper saying, 'I didn't get paid,'" Easley said.
The governor said Campbell, a businessman who grew up in a political family, should have known to issue invoices. "He's not an imbecile," Easley said. He noted that the campaign had plenty of money.
Easley said he wants to pay anyone who is owed.
Easley took greater exception to the allegation earlier this week from Campbell about repairs to Easley's home on East Lake Drive in Raleigh.
Campbell said that he and Easley were part of a scheme to pay for $11,000 in fix-ups with campaign money. The payments were not reported as elections law requires because, Campbell testified, Easley wanted him to submit bogus invoices that listed the payments as being for travel.
"I didn't tell him to send them," Easley said. "I didn't indicate to him to send them. I didn't express or imply or give him any indication or suggestion that he should do that, or that I would approve it or that I would condone it," Easley said. "It never, ever happened."
Leake asked Easley what would make Campbell contend that was the case.
"I don't know," Easley said.
Invoices in question
At issue are two invoices Campbell submitted to the campaign.
One invoice was dated Dec. 29, 2004, for $4,777.50 to cover flying time to "various fundraisers" and "various events." Another was dated June 30, 2005, for $6,300 and covers flights from Nov. 5, 2004, to April 30, 2005.
Records show Campbell paid for work on the house before submitting both invoices. Easley testified that he believed both invoices to the campaign had nothing to do with his home.
A lawyer for Campbell said that he testified to the best of his ability.
Easley offered new versions of events.
He said that the second invoice was for future flying time with Campbell. "We decided he should get an advance," Easley testified.
That contradicts a memo that Rebecca McGhee, a campaign worker, wrote to the campaign treasurer when Campbell submitted the second invoice. She questioned why Campbell was getting paid for flights without producing flight logs.
Her memo says she wanted more documentation before cutting a check.
"The Governor said that he knows what the invoice says," she wrote in the memo. "He instructed me that we should go ahead and pay the invoice."
There is no mention at all of future flights, especially in late 2005 when Easley was into his second term and not planning to run for office.
Campbell's flight records show that he provided one campaign-related flight after that. It was in 2006 and was valued at about $850.
Easley bristled at questions about what happened on the phone call with McGhee. He said at the time he was focusing on the state lottery and other government matters.
"I get a call from Mr. Campbell that said they don't want to pay the invoice for the advance," Easley said. "My state of mind was, 'Can't you all work this out?' ... I don't have time to mess with these invoices."
Moreover, Easley disputed a central part of Campbell's testimony: that the money scheme arose after Campbell went to Easley to get reimbursed.
Elections board member Anita Earls asked Easley: "He never came to you and complained about not getting paid for the repairs?"
"No, ma'am," Easley said. "Never. He never, ever mentioned anything about repairs to the house along with any invoices."
Leake asked Easley how he thought the home repair work was being paid for.
Easley said he assumed that Campbell sought payment from Easley's personal secretary, who handled many personal bills, or a rental company that was managing Easley's home while he lived in the Executive Mansion.
The loaned SUV
Easley was also asked about a GMC Yukon that his son drove for several years. Easley offered a slightly different account than Robert F. Bleecker of Fayetteville, whose dealership owned the vehicle.
Bleecker had testified that he provided the car for Easley's son and that he understood he wouldn't get paid until Easley was finished with the SUV.
Easley said it was a campaign vehicle and that his son used it for campaign purposes. Easley acknowledged he could not say whether anyone else from the campaign used the car and said it was kept at the Executive Mansion, not at a campaign office.
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