North Carolina generally has a reputation for clean government, but of course, that’s not always the case. Here are 7 of the biggest political scandals that have hit the state. Their impact is still felt today.
Meg Scott Phipps scandal
This is the original North Carolina political scandal of modern history. Phipps became the state’s Commissioner of Agriculture in 2000, taking over for the “Sodfather” Jim Graham after 36 years. Quickly, Phipps was accused of accepting some $88,000 in bribes from companies trying to secure the lucrative contract to put on the N.C. State Fair.
But what really got her into trouble were allegations that her campaign spent money to pay back loans outstanding from the campaign of a primary challenger who later went on to work on her campaign.
She ended up pleading guilty to charges related to both, and spent three years in federal prison — where she became friends with Martha Stewart.
Jim Black scandal
Black is best known for pleading guilty to bribing a lawmaker to switch political parties so he could stay speaker of the state House.
In 2003, Democrats temporarily ceded control of the House to Republicans. Black reportedly handed over a stack of cash in a paper bag at an International House of Pancakes in Salisbury to Rep. Michael Decker, who had switched from Republican to Democrat, giving each party 60 members in the House.
He also pleaded guilty to a federal charge of accepting $25,000 in cash from chiropractors in exchange for pushing through a bill for them.
Mike Easley scandal
The two-term Democratic governor put in an Alford plea to a felony campaign finance violation and paid a $1,000 fine. But the circumstances are much more interesting.
Easley came under fire for a string of questionable arrangements, including his wife landing a job at N.C. State, a supposed below-market deal on Southport property, and allegations that campaign money went to fix up Easley’s home.
But the only thing that was proven was a helicopter flight from a campaign supporter to a fundraiser.
Easley was ultimately charged with failure to report a campaign contribution.
Ruffin Poole scandal
One of Easley’s top aides made for a much juicer scandal. Poole spent about a year in federal prison after agreeing to a deal that kept him from standing trial on 57 counts of public corruption-related charges.
The “Little Governor” was allegedly the guy responsible for keeping major Democratic donors happy, whatever it took. Sometimes that meant getting them appointments. Sometimes it meant getting them permits. And in return, Poole was reportedly “showered with gifts,” as WRAL put it.
Patrick Cannon scandal
The mayor of Charlotte was arrested just a few weeks into his term for allegedly accepting bribes from an undercover FBI agent in a sting. The agent had purported to be a developer looking for help on some permit issues. Cannon allegedly took a briefcase full of cash in the mayor’s office and a trip to Las Vegas in exchange for pledging to help.
Duane Deaver and the SBI Crime Lab scandal
For more than 15 years, technicians with the State Bureau of Investigation’s crime lab covered up or otherwise failed to report test results that would help defendants — including some that would have exonerated them.
At the center was an analyst named Duane Deaver, who was frequently called upon to testify in major murder trials. He was fired for allegedly misrepresenting blood test results on the stand.
The state of North Carolina eventually ended up paying more than $12 million to three men wrongfully convicted after they spent decades behind bars.
This scandal has recently re-emerged in the public conversation after Netflix picked up “The Staircase,” the incredibly well-done mini-series on the Michael Peterson murder trial.
John Edwards scandal
This is the best known political scandal in North Carolina history, but it came after the former U.S. senator became a national figure.
While running as the vice presidential candidate on John Kerry’s ticket, Edwards was accused of having an extramarital affair with a campaign videographer. Years later, he ultimately admitted to fathering a child with her.
Edwards was indicted in 2011 on charges of using campaign money to cover up the affair. A trial ended in a hung jury.