State Politics

Former SEANC leader has reached plea deal

Former SEANC chief Dana Cope pleads guilty to two felonies

Judge Donald Stephens addresses Dana Cope in court during a hearing in which Cope pleads guilty to two felonies.
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Judge Donald Stephens addresses Dana Cope in court during a hearing in which Cope pleads guilty to two felonies.

Dana Cope, the former executive director of the State Employees Association of North Carolina who is facing embezzlement charges, is scheduled to plead guilty in state court on Tuesday.

Cope was indicted in August on two felony charges that he spent $570,000 of the association’s money on flight lessons, landscaping, home appliances, vacations and other unauthorized purchases.

The plea agreement became public Monday when Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman mentioned the deal to a judge during calendar call, a court session in which lawyers sort out case schedules.

Freeman said Cope would appear in court Tuesday morning but declined to answer questions or discuss any details of the agreement. Roger Smith Jr., Cope’s lawyer, confirmed that they would be in court Tuesday but declined to say more.

Cope’s troubles began after The News & Observer reported that Cope used SEANC checks to pay for landscaping at his home and flight lessons, and used SEANC credit cards to pay for electronics, expensive clothes and eyebrow waxing.

The following day, Freeman started an investigation. Cope, the pugnacious head of the 53,000 member state employees union since 2000, resigned one day later. An internal audit subsequently found a half million dollars in unaccounted spending.

Cope faces two Class C felony charges. Each carries a prison sentence of three to 71/2 years for a first-time offender.

Among the improper spending with SEANC funds listed in the indictment: landscaping, clothing and jewelry, home renovations and appliances, vacations, hotel rooms, massages and plastic surgery. Freeman said the surgery involved a scar on one of Cope’s hands.

Much of Cope’s trouble stemmed from projects at his home on Sturbridge Court in Raleigh, inside the Beltline. The house underwent major renovations in 2013, followed by extensive landscaping work. Work on a backyard pool was halted in February, after The News & Observer published a report about Cope’s spending.

Cope had directed SEANC to spend $109,000 with a landscaping firm that had also done the work on his home. One check, for nearly $19,000, was made out to a defunct computer company with a name similar to the landscaping company. It was justified by a phony invoice, and the landscaping firm cashed the check.

When Cope was indicted, Freeman called the case “disheartening and discouraging.” She said the evidence indicates Cope improperly took dues contributed by employees making an average of $30,000 a year and who joined the association expecting it to help them with better pay and working conditions.