The leaders of the State Employees Association of North Carolina formally apologized Wednesday to the two whistleblowers who brought to light the financial improprieties of former director Dana Cope.
Betty Jones and Art Anthony, former SEANC board members, brought their concerns about Cope to The News & Observer, which published an article in early February about Cope’s questionable spending on landscaping, flight lessons, entertainment and eyebrow waxing, among other items
SEANC’s leadership immediately labeled the article “not true” and Jones and Anthony “unethical.” The following day, Wake District Attorney Lorrin Freeman opened a criminal inquiry. And the day after that, Cope resigned.
In apologizing to Jones and Anthony, SEANC president Wayne Fish said the initial attack on the whistleblowers was “based on our perception of the truth, grounded in part on an inadequate internal investigation performed at the time.”
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Despite repeated requests, Fish has not released details of that internal investigation. That investigation was overseen by SEANC’s in-house counsel, Tom Harris, who said in an email that he fully concurred with the written apology.
In the apology, Fish said that SEANC’s 11-person executive board was “wrong and unfair” in attacking the whistleblowers and defending Cope.
“We apologize to Mrs. Jones and Mr. Anthony for mischaracterizing the motivations for their actions,” Fish wrote. “Furthermore, we appreciate their willingness to stand up for SEANC and protect the organization that we all love and are proud to serve.”
In February, The N&O reported that SEANC, at Cope’s direction, spent $109,000 with a landscaping firm that also has done extensive work at his Raleigh home. One check, for nearly $19,000, was made out to a defunct computer company and justified by a phony invoice. The landscaping firm, with a name nearly identical to the computer company, cashed the check.
SEANC also paid for Cope’s flight lessons and credit card expenses that ranged from an upscale Texas beltmaker to a London clothier to eyebrow waxing at the European Wax Center in Raleigh.
SEANC’s executive committee and Harris, the legal counsel, tried to dissuade The N&O from publishing the article. They said SEANC had conducted a thorough internal investigation showing that Cope had committed no misappropriations of funds and no improprieties.
Before Cope quit, SEANC’s executive committee approved a severance payment to him. SEANC had recovered half the payment and expects to recover the entire payment, according to Hardy Lewis, a Raleigh lawyer representing SEANC following Cope’s resignation. Lewis would not specifiy the amount, but Michael Weisel, an attorney for Jones and Anthony, pegged the severance between $140,000 and $200,000.
Weisel has also raised other concerns, including allegations that Cope destroyed the hard drive from his SEANC computer as well as invoices, receipts and other financial records. His letter, sent on Saturday, demanded an apology and threatened possible legal action.