Auditor Beth Wood gets 'cease-and-desist' letter over ALE case

cjarvis@newsobserver.comJuly 18, 2012 

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Beth Wood, State Auditor

— A clash between State Auditor Beth Wood and the Division of Alcohol Law Enforcement over the auditor’s scathing report that top ALE officials misused state cars escalated Wednesday.

As she arrived in the Legislative Office Building to discuss the June 19 investigative report with a committee of lawmakers, Wood was served with a letter demanding she “cease and desist” from further disseminating the document.

The letter, signed by two attorneys representing ALE Director John Ledford, demands that the report and a video of Wood explaining its findings be removed from the State Auditor’s website.

Wood read the letter and proceeded with her plans to discuss the report with the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee, which had asked her to appear to talk about the report and two unrelated audits, Wood’s spokesman, Dennis Patterson, said.

The investigative report, which was routinely released to the news media and also sent to the General Assembly and the governor’s office, concluded that Ledford and Deputy Director of Operations Allen Page improperly used their state-issued cars to drive home to the Asheville area on weekends, a commute of about 250 miles each way.

But overshadowing that finding was auditors’ claim that Ledford and other ALE officials interfered with their investigation by trying to thwart access to employees and records. It got so bad, according to Wood, that her office asked for help from the Attorney General’s Office preparing subpoenas.

The report recommended the director and deputy director be disciplined.

The ALE, meanwhile, disagreed with the report and formally complained that the auditor’s lead investigator was incompetent, untruthful, and unlawfully detained the officials.

All this acrimony should never have been made public, especially once the report became a personnel issue, according to the letter signed by Ledford’s attorneys, Stephen Paul Lindsay of Asheville and Kerry Sutton of Durham. The letter says employee disciplinary action is confidential under state law, and calls the report libelous and slanderous.

On Wednesday, Lindsay said it wasn’t the auditor’s job to go after individual employees in public.

“It seems to me she’s fairly out of control here,” Lindsay said. “It’s our intention to bring a stop to it.”

The next move is Wood’s, he added.

Patterson said the department’s general counsel is reviewing the letter.

Jarvis: 919-829-4576

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