Politics & Government

Feds probing ex-N.C. Gov. Easley's marina deal

RALEIGH — A wide-ranging federal investigation of former Gov. Mike Easley appears to be venturing into renovations of his Southport house and a marina lease that resulted in an ethics complaint against him.

Several people tied to the marina deal appeared Wednesday at the federal courthouse in Raleigh, where a grand jury was meeting.

Among them was Carl Stewart Jr., a former state House speaker and the current chairman of the state Ports Authority, which oversees the marina. Stewart said in an interview late Wednesday that he spent about 30 minutes with the grand jury, answering questions mostly about the marina deal, which was finalized in late 2005 and early 2006.

The lease deal gave long-term control of the state-owned Southport marina to a group backed by Jim Goodnight and John Sall, founders of Cary's SAS business software firm, and it led to major improvements of the dilapidated marina. Critics had said the deal was too favorable to campaign supporters of the governor.

"The questions seemed to be appropriate about the decisions that were made," said Stewart, who was appointed by Easley.

Records show that Easley aides worked to shift control of the marina to new owners as Easley's second term began. Stewart said he does not believe anything illegal took place. He said scores of documents about the deal will be turned over as soon as today.

Residents of Southport fought Easley on the marina deal, saying he was pushing the 430-slip marina to his friends.

Records showed that the management group included Wilmington developer Nick Garrett and Cary developers Julian "Bubba" Rawl and Tim Smith, who along with Goodnight and Sall had donated to Easley's campaigns. Easley denied any improper action, and the ethics complaint was dismissed.

Ports officials had said the marina was in bad shape and needed many repairs. They said a long-term lease with those people would lead to improvements.

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