RALEIGH — CLARIFICATION: This article was updated at 11 a.m. Friday, Nov. 9, 2012, with a revised reason for one flight basketball coach Mark Gottfried took to South Carolina.
D. McQueen Campbell III, who resigned from the N.C. State University Board of Trustees in disgrace, has found a second act at the university and is again rubbing shoulders with prominent NCSU leaders, this time as an aerial chauffeur for the universitys top coaches.
When he was last in the public eye, the Raleigh real estate broker was testifying at a 2009 state Board of Elections hearing into alleged campaign law violations by former Gov. Mike Easley. In a plea arrangement, Easley was convicted of a felony tied to violating six state campaign finance laws. The violations were all related to a $1,600 helicopter flight Campbell provided him.
Now Campbell, an aviation enthusiast who has bought and sold dozens of planes and helicopters, is using flights to spend time with NCSU coaches and is trading the service as in-kind gifts for his membership in the universitys booster club. A plane owned by the Campbell family has been used for ferrying basketball coach Mark Gottfried on five flights so far, beginning last year, and football coach Tom OBrien once in 2010, according to a tally supplied by NCSU.
Campbell said in an emailed statement he hadnt been the pilot on every occasion, and that the donated flights were something his family began before he got involved. The flights, he wrote, were an expression of the Campbells long-standing support of the university and NCSU athletics.
We love NC State and love to fly, he wrote. When asked to help we always try to do so when we are available. These flights are only a small fraction of our support to NC State and the Wolfpack Club.
Campbells notoriety may make the flights with NCSU coaches seem odd, but there is nothing illegal about them, and there has been no hint of impropriety.
Campbell resigned as chairman of the NCSU Board of Trustees in 2009 amid questions about how Easleys wife, Mary, got a high-paying job at NCSU. He initially said that he hadnt played a role in her hiring, but emails released by the university showed that he had.
The scandal also cost Chancellor James Oblinger and Provost Larry Nielsen their jobs. They stepped down and took other positions at the university. All three had said that the governors office had not played a role in creating Mary Easleys job. The emails showed, though, that Campbell had worked with Gov. Easley, Oblinger and Nielsen to create the job.
Campbell was a close associate of Easley, who appointed him to the NCSU board. He provided a host of flights to Easley for campaign and personal trips, and also twice made flights for speakers at an NCSU speakers series that Mary Easley created.
Three of the flights with Gottfried were for recruiting in Maryland and Charlotte, and the others were to Charlotte for a meeting with ESPN officials and to South Carolina for a coaches cancer charity event. OBrien was flown to South Carolina for a Shrine Bowl business event and for recruiting.
The Campbell family claimed $28,556 for the flights in credit as gifts-in-kind to the booster organization. Its unclear how much of that was credited specifically to McQueen Campbell.
NCSU Athletic Director Debbie Yow wrote in an email statement that she knew Campbell was giving rides to coaches.
I am aware that a handful of donors to the Student Aid Association (Wolfpack Club) are willing to provide business-related flight service to our mens basketball or football coach in lieu of their monetary contributions in a given year, if the planes are available, she wrote. I understand that Mr. Campbell is one of those individuals.
According to the Wolfpack Clubs website, it accepts such gifts at the discretion of Executive Director Bobby Purcell. Purcell said the booster club has had a long association with the Campbell family.
They had always been honest, generous and above reproach in all their dealings with the Wolfpack Club, he said. Some in the NCSU family may have soured on them, but not his organization.
They have always been upstanding, and supportive whenever we needed them, and frankly they are one of the finest families in North Carolina, he said. Wed never turn our back on good people like that.
The idea behind accepting the donated flights, Purcell said, is for the booster club to save the university money by keeping it from having to charter planes at its own expense. The athletics department determines whether a trip is appropriate, then the Wolfpack Club tries to match the request with a plane and pilot.
Campbells penchant for giving flights to Easley came under the spotlight in stories published by The News & Observer, and drew scrutiny during a state Board of Elections investigation. Easley said during testimony that his campaign likely had not met its responsibility under state law to properly pay for flights that Campbell had provided, flights Campbell valued at more than $87,000.
Campbell also testified at the time that he was in a scheme with Easley to file false invoices that hid payment by Easleys campaign for $11,000 in home repairs on Easleys Raleigh home. The governor testified that Campbell did that on his own.
Staff writer J. Andrew Curliss contributed to this story