RALEIGH — A Senate committee will hear from three more witnesses Wednesday before deciding Thursday whether to request a formal investigation into letters that distorted the state Department of Transportation’s stance on $63 million in state money for two toll road projects.
“We must hear directly from three people who can tell us who signed the letters, who asked them to sign the letters, and whether they were forced or coerced into doing so,” Sen. Tom Apodaca, chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, said at a committee meeting Tuesday.
At issue are June 14 letters to two legislators stating, falsely, that DOT wanted the money included in the 2013 budget. Scheduled to appear Wednesday before the committee are:
• Vicki Stanley, executive assistant to Jim Trogdon, the DOT chief operating officer, who was out of town when his electronic signatures were applied to the letters.
• Kevin McLaughlin, deputy chief of staff to Gov. Bev Perdue, who worked with another Perdue aide, Pryor Gibson, to add language to the letters that Trogdon later said was false.
• Susan Coward, a DOT deputy secretary who authorized the letters and later apologized for doing so.
Trogdon had told legislative leaders in a June 8 letter that DOT would not need money in the 2013 budget for two planned toll projects, the Garden Parkway near Charlotte and the Mid-Currituck Bridge on the northern Outer Banks. Later, at Gibson’s request, he drafted letters seeking to allay the concerns of two legislators who sought to keep the toll-road money in the budget.
Gibson told the Senate Rules Committee last week that he persuaded Coward to approve his revisions to the letters, inserting a sentence drafted by McLaughlin to say that DOT would need the money in 2013 after all. Trogdon told the committee that the letters were wrong and that he had not approved them.
Apodaca said he launched the rules committee hearings because the false letters had been cited in budget debate on the Senate floor.
“We will conclude this inquiry on Thursday,” Apodaca said Tuesday. “All options remain on the table.”
Speaking to reporters later, Apodaca said the committee’s options included doing nothing or “referring it to authorities, whether it’s ethics or law enforcement or a combination of both.”
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