Former NC Gov. Mike Easley enters felony plea agreement

Mike Easley mug shot (courtesy: City County Bureau of Investigations)
Mike Easley mug shot (courtesy: City County Bureau of Investigations)
By David Whisenant - bio l email

RALEIGH, NC (WBTV/AP) - The former governor of North Carolina has entered a plea agreement over a false campaign finance report.

"As the candidate, I have to take responsibility for what the campaign does," he told the judge. "The buck has to stop somewhere. It stops with me, and I take responsibility for what occurred in this instance," Easley told the judge on Tuesday.

Former Governor Mike Easley entered an Alford plea in Wake County court, which means he acknowledged the state's evidence could result in a conviction without having to admit any guilt. By entering the plea Easley would avoid any prison time.

Prosecutors say the plea also ends a federal probe that started in February 2009, a month after he left office.

As a part of the plea deal, Easley consented to a $1,000 fine after state and federal prosecutors spent more than a year combing through his life.

Superior Court Judge Osmond Smith still must agree to the plea deal.

The agreement stems from the investigation by Rowan County District Attorney Bill Kenerly, who was brought in to examine the case after the State Board of Elections fined Easley's campaign $100,000.

"Regardless of any Alford pleas, it's a significant and sad end to this story," Kenerly said on Tuesday after the plea hearing was completed.

The investigation by both state and federal authorities began last year after The News & Observer of Raleigh reported that Easley had accepted two dozen free flights on private planes and then did not disclose them on campaign reports or state ethics forms.

Other allegations included: Easley's failure to disclose receiving a $137,000 discount on a waterfront lot in Carteret County; acceptance of 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 he used campaign money to fix his home in Raleigh but did not account for it in public disclosures.

Those allegations are now disposed of with Easley pleading guilty to the single charge.

Easley's attorney, Joe Cheshire emotionally expressed his anger at the media following the hearing.  Cheshire accused the media of reporting "ad nauseam" over several months on items that ultimately were not part of the conviction.

"The investigation of this case ended with no finding of corruption," Cheshire said.  "Governor Easley accepted responsibility for some of his reports not being filed.   No campaign money was ever illegally or inappropriately used, just not properly reported.  The truth will never give Michael Frances Easley, his wife, or his family their lives back."

Copyright 2010 WBTV. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved.