RALEIGH — Ruffin Poole, an aide to former Gov. Mike Easley, pleaded guilty to a single count of income tax evasion Monday, sparing himself a trial on 57 counts related to corruption.
As part of his plea agreement, Poole will cooperate with investigators, suggesting that federal prosecutors have their sights firmly set on higher ranking members of Easley's administration, possibly Easley himself.
"I trust that Mr. Poole's cooperation will be valuable," said U.S. Attorney George Holding just after the hearing. "I can promise that we will use the information. We will follow the evidence to wherever this investigation leads."
U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle accepted the plea, and said he will suspend further proceedings in the case until the federal government has concluded its investigation.
The income tax charge was related to a $30,000 profit Poole made from an investment with Lanny Wilson, the financial backer of Cannonsgate, a Carteret County development where Easley bought a choice lot at a steep discount. The Easley administration issued multiple permits for Cannonsgate, and Poole made calls to check on the permits, The News & Observer has reported.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Dennis Duffy said that Wilmington financier Lanny Wilson allowed Poole into the deal so that Poole would owe him a favor.
Poole was in charge of making hundreds of appointments to boards and commissions for Easley.
"Lanny Wilson made a point to curry favor with him," Duffy said. "These guys were falling all over each other because of the value of these appointments,."
Lawyers for Easley issued a statement late Monday: "After charging and recharging Ruffin Poole in a 77-page indictment with 54 counts of reported 'corruption,' the Government has chosen to dismiss every single one of those charges and allow Mr. Poole to plead guilty to one count of not properly reporting his personal income tax liability. Governor Easley remains supportive of Mr. Poole and his family and hopes this development will help them begin to move past this difficult time."