Published November 17, 2014
North Carolina's State Bureau of Investigation has opened an investigation into Gov. Beverly Perdue's campaign flights after a local prosecutor said he had lingering questions about a matter marred by partisan strife, officials said Friday.
SBI spokeswoman Noelle Talley said the bureau's professional standards division began the investigation at the request of Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby. Willoughby said he made a request last week to investigate payments for campaign air travel and review details raised in a State Board of Elections probe.
"I felt there were some questions that were raised that were not addressed," Willoughby said. He added that his concerns do not specifically involve the governor herself.
The elections board fined Perdue's campaign $30,000 last month for failing to report more than 40 private flights. A majority on the panel found no deliberate effort to break the law, but the two Republicans on the board tried to raise the size of that penalty or hold a public hearing that would serve as a broader investigation of Perdue's campaign flights.
Perdue campaign spokesman Marc Farinella said he has confidence in the SBI's ability to conduct a fair probe.
"We expect that they will find the same thing that the State Board of Elections found — that no one did anything wrong intentionally and no one tried to conceal information," Farinella said. "We will assist them in any way we can and in any way they ask."
North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Tom Fetzer had called the outcome of the board hearing a "whitewash." Republicans contend that board chairman Larry Leake and director Gary Bartlett obstructed work by the board's chief investigator, Kim Strach. Perdue's campaign has pointed out that Strach's husband was, until recently, the state GOP's general counsel.
Willoughby, a Democrat, seemed to give credence to GOP concerns.
"I did feel like some of the issue Kim Strach had raised and some of the information didn't get addressed," he said. "We've done a number of cases with the board where they have been very careful and deliberate in reviewing the information and even having public hearings. In all of those, there was a very deliberate and painstaking review. This one seemed to go quicker and I don't know why."
Fetzer expressed faith in Willoughby's efforts.
"I have full faith and coinfidence in Colon Willoughby, and if there has been any wrongdoing, he will pursue it and holds those individuals accountable," Fetzer said.
Leake, the board chairman, previously said that he had participated in interviews with Strach to help the board complete its work into the issues in a timely manner.
Before the elections board exam, the Perdue campaign already had amended expense reports going back much of the last decade to add flights it says were uncovered during a self-audit of its finances. The Bev Perdue Committee also then paid tens of thousands of dollars in campaign funds to people who flew them around.
SBI's professional standards division conducts what the bureau describes as "sensitive investigations" involving public corruption and government misconduct.
Associated Press Writer Tom Foreman Jr. contributed to this report.