A federal grand jury today charged Ruffin Poole, former Gov. Mike Easley's counsel and close aide, on 51 counts of corruption.
The 64-page indictment alleges that Poole, 37, of Raleigh, extorted money from key Easley supporters and took corresponding action on environmental permits. It charges him with bribery, use of the mail in aid of racketeering, and says his actions deprived North Carolina citizens of his "honest services."
The indictment says that Poole was a silent investor in development projects pushed by developers in Wilmington and Charlotte, making tens of thousands of dollars in profits on projects that he influenced in his government work. In his capacity as Easley's legal counsel, he pressed government officials for action on environmental permits on the projects he invested in, the charges say.
The indictment doesn't name the developers, but it is clear that they are Lanny Wilson of Wilmington and Gary Allen of Charlotte. Earlier in the day, Wilson resigned from the state Board of Transportation.
It is the first indictment issued in a lengthy federal probe surrounding Easley, who was governor from 2001 until last year.
Easley, who was the state's attorney general from 1993 to 2001, has denied wrongdoing.
The former Governor released this statement through his lawyer, Joe Cheshire, Thursday night:
'We have reviewed the indictment of Ruffin Poole. While Governor Easley has no knowledge of the conduct that makes up the criminal allegations therein, he has faith in Ruffin Poole and finds it hard to believe that he would ever intentionally violate the law. Ruffin Poole, like anyone else charged with a crime, deserves the presumption of innocence, not a rush to judgment. Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family."
Poole has not talked publicly about the ongoing investigation and fought efforts by the state Board of Elections to compel his testimony in a recent state hearing that examined fundraising activities of the Easley campaign.
Last month, Poole asserted his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself before the board and lost his job at the McGuireWoods law and lobbying firm, where Easley also works.
Poole first worked with Easley as an associate attorney general beginning in Nov. 1998, several months after he graduated from N.C. Central's law school. Poole joined Easley's senior staff after the 2000 election.
Poole's various titles under Easley in the governor's office were special counsel, executive counsel and legal counsel.
But Poole was also known as the fix-it man in the upper levels of state government; he was the go-to person on regulatory, permitting, transportation and appointment concerns.
Poole traveled with Easley frequently, too, often for political reasons. The two went to Chicago in June 2008 to meet with then-candidate Barack Obama and other governors, for example.
Easley also appointed Poole to the Golden LEAF foundation board, which oversees how millions from the national tobacco settlement are distributed in North Carolina. Poole resigned that position last month after coming under criticism for refusing to testify in the state hearing.
When Easley left office and joined the McGuireWoods law and lobbying firm a year ago, Poole was part of the deal. The two shared an assistant at the firm until Poole left the firm ast month.
Poole registered last year to lobby for the American Association of Physician Specialists of Tampa, Fla.; the Pool Safety Council in Washington; and Regulatory Consultants Inc. of Albuquerque, N.M.
Poole started out in politics while working for Zeb Alley, a veteran lobbyist who often has ranked in surveys as the most influential lobbyist in Raleigh.