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November 23, 2010

Former NC Governor to cop a state plea to end federal investigation

This article from North Carolina, which is headlined "Easley agrees to plea deal," reports on an expected guilty plea from a former NC Governor that has interesting federalism (and honest services fraud) dynamics. Here are the basics:

Former Gov. Mike Easley has agreed to a plea deal to end the long-running state and federal investigations into his actions while he was in office.  A hearing in the case has been set for noon today at the Wake County Courthouse, according to a statement from Judge Donald W. Stephens.  Any deal could still fall apart because Easley or prosecutors could change their minds.  And a judge must accept any deal.

Officials would not comment publicly, but multiple sources told The News & Observer that Easley, a Democrat who served two terms each as North Carolina's governor and attorney general, had agreed to a deal with prosecutors.  Easley's attorney, Joseph Cheshire V of Raleigh, declined to comment on what will happen at the scheduled hearing....

The plea to a felony would be entered in state court.  As part of the deal, a wide-ranging federal investigation that has stretched for nearly two years would end without any charges, the sources said.  If today's hearing leads to a conviction, Easley would be the first governor in North Carolina's history to be convicted in court of a crime related to his official service....

Under sentencing guidelines, Easley is unlikely to receive an active prison sentence.  He would face a possible fine.  And he could also lose his license to practice law.

Easley, 60, has been under the eye of state and federal investigators since early last year, when The News & Observer reported on his acceptance of two dozen free flights on private aircraft and not disclosing them on campaign reports or state ethics forms....

Among other concerns: Easley did not disclose receiving a $137,000 discount on a waterfront lot in Carteret County; he accepted free golf dues valued at roughly $50,000; he helped create a high-paying job for his wife, Mary, at N.C. State University; and that he used campaign money to fix his home in Raleigh but did not account for it in public disclosures.

The State Board of Elections heard testimony in October 2009 about Easley's flights, his son's use of a free vehicle for six years and Campbell's story -- disputed by Easley -- that the governor directed him to file false invoices to hide the campaign's payment for $11,000 in home repairs.

This case sounds like a classic foundation for an honest services fraud prosecution in the federal system; I wonder if the Supreme Court's recent Skilling ruling may have convinced federal authorities that getting a criminal conviction in state court was a more efficient and effective way to resolve this matter.  Relatedly, though I am not sure if a state plea deal to resolve state charges can formally prevent the feds from bringing a separate federal prosecution, I suspect the feds will be happy to close its file and move on if and when Easley is subject to state justice.

November 23, 2010 at 09:23 AM | Permalink


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This is the guy who never pardoned anyone in NC?? What a joke.

Posted by: anon | Nov 23, 2010 12:53:57 PM

what a criminal crock! Can't no little people avoid federal prosection by pleaning out in STATE court!

Posted by: rodsmith | Nov 23, 2010 1:02:10 PM

First John Edwards, now this guy. Is the North Carolina Democratic Party trying to outdo its counterpart in Illinois? Or New York?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 23, 2010 6:18:31 PM

Wonder if this guy paid taxes on all these benefits.

Posted by: federalist | Nov 23, 2010 8:58:19 PM

Worst Governor NC has ever had! Wonder if he will apply for pardon?

Posted by: Anon | Nov 23, 2010 11:09:57 PM

Anon, it would be quite an irony if former governor Easley would ask for a pardon, considering his position in the lawsuit challenging the propriety of him making a decision about clemency for two defendants who he put on death row when he was a prosecutor. Easley opposed all efforts to have the decision whether someone should be removed from death row made by a person other than the one who put the defendant on death row in the first place.

In my opinion, Governor Easley embodied all the worst attributes of a prosecutor-he was a politician to the core, oblivious to justice and fair play.

I believe he was ultimately the victim of his own hubris.


Posted by: bruce cunningham | Nov 24, 2010 10:10:52 AM

If this news story is correct, http://www.kentucky.com/2010/11/23/1538183/easley-convicted-of-felony-ends.html, the lack of zeal in prosecuting this case was astounding. According to the story, Easley yesterday got off with a deal that calls for no jail time whatever, a $1000 fine and court costs. Oh, he's very likely to lose his law license. One would think.

It's sometimes said here that the problem is overzealous prosecutors. This case offers stunning evidence that the problem is lazy and disinterested prosecutors.

With this "punishment" as the sentence, why would he even bother to ask for a pardon? And more to the point, just how much brass would it take to demand a pardon when he's already got a better than sweetheart deal like this?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 24, 2010 11:28:17 AM

Bill, amen. Lack of zeal is an understatement. The paper said today he is going to resist the loss of law license.


Posted by: bruce cunningham | Nov 24, 2010 3:25:57 PM

Could he dare ask for a pardon ever? Considering he was quite proud of the fact that he never granted a pardon to someone who was not found innocent by DNA.

This guy does not deserve to keep his law license!

Posted by: Anon | Nov 25, 2010 2:25:02 PM

bruce --

"Lack of zeal is an understatement."

And amen to that. This deal smells so bad that I really would like to see an independent review of it. Easley knows so many people in power that I wonder if some strings got pulled here. It's stuff like this that undermines the average person's opinion of the justice system.

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