RALEIGH — Gov. Mike Easley's longtime counsel, Ruffin Poole, was handcuffed Thursday as he walked into the federal courthouse and later as he appeared in a wood-paneled courtroom.
The scene was startling: The one-time right-hand man to the governor standing and listening to a federal judge, Terrence W. Boyle, read 51 charges against him. Boyle explained the maximum prison sentence for each, totaling hundreds of years, though actual sentencing is rarely the maximum.
It was Poole's first appearance on corruption charges that were leveled against him last week in a grand jury indictment; it was not time for him to enter a plea. Outside court, he and his lawyer declined to comment.
Poole, who turned 38 on Tuesday, is charged with extortion, bribery, money laundering and other crimes related to his actions while he was a chief aide to Easley, a Democrat who was governor from 2001 until last year.
Among the charges is that Poole accepted a $30,000 profit on an investment in the Cannonsgate real estate development in Carteret County and a $25,000 profit at a second project; and accepted trips to New Orleans and Cost Rica from the financial backer of Cannonsgate and other projects.
Poole, as a key aide to Easley, took actions to ensure that permits for the real estate deals went through, according to the indictment. Easley has said he had no knowledge of such conduct and finds it hard to believe.
Asked in court whether he understood the charges, Poole answered in a clear voice, "Yes, sir."
Poole was required to surrender his passport, but he will be allowed to travel in North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C.
As Poole left the courtroom, he hugged his wife and kissed her on the head.