RALEIGH, N.C. -- Budget proposals in both the state House and Senate in North Carolina that take control of the State Bureau of Investigation away from the elected attorney general and give it to an appointee of the governor have brought charges and countercharges of politics.
Governor's office could take control of SBI
Attorney General Roy Cooper finds himself fighting with the governor and state lawmakers for control of the SBI even as his office confirms the SBI is investigating campaign contributions from the sweepstakes gambling industry.
Attorney General Roy Cooper finds himself fighting with the governor and state lawmakers for control of the SBI even as his office confirms the SBI is investigating campaign contributions from the sweepstakes gambling industry to some of those same state lawmakers.
Cooper, a Democrat, heads up the state Department of Justice, which for 78 years has run the SBI.
But the state budget proposed by Senate President Phil Berger moves the SBI to the Department of Public Safety, part of the executive branch currently run by the Republican Governor Pat McCrory.
You don't want the very people who may be investigated to be supervising the investigators, Cooper said in an interview with NBC Charlotte. That's why it's critically important that it remain independent. And I hope that the governor and the legislators will see the wisdom of this in the end.
The sweepstakes probe started last year when news broke that a sweepstakes kingpin named Chase Burns doled out hundreds of thousands of dollars to the campaigns state lawmakers and the governor.
Burns pled no contest to federal gambling crimes.
This week the SBI confirmed it is investigating those political donations.
A spokeswoman for the AG, Noelle Talley, confirmed the SBI has been working for months on the sweepstakes case after she said an AP reporter asked about the investigation this week.
We typically confirm an investigation, said Talley. This is exactly the kind of case we are concerned could be compromised.
But a spokeswoman for Senate president Phil Berger, Amy Auth, accused the AG of playing politics with the timing of the release of the sweepstakes probe, calling it a leak.
Governor Pat McCrory expressed no interest in taking on the SBI last year and did not include the switch in his proposed budget this year.
The governor s spokesman Josh Ellis sent NBC Charlotte a statement via e-mail saying, The governor is still reviewing the proposals but he believes there should be no politicization regardless of whether the SBI is located in the Attorney General's Office or the Department of Public Safety. We are saddened the attorney general continues to politicize his office, including campaign fundraising, on issues he is directly involved in.
After the Febuary 2nd coal ash spill on the Dan River, Cooper says the SBI is assisting in the federal criminal investigation of Governor McCrory's own administration focusing on the relationship of Duke Energy to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
Spokesman Josh Ellis said no one in the governor s office has been subpoenaed or interviewed in connection with the DENR investigation.
Here you have specialists with the SBI in environmental crimes, investigating public corruption, in financial crimes, in computer forensics, all these areas are critically important in these types of investigations, said Cooper.
Cooper has not formally announced that he is running for governor but is widely mentioned as a candidate in 2016.
SBI Director Greg McLeod says no one in the criminal justice system in North Carolina requested the transfer of the SBI and noted there have been no public hearings on the issue. What s the rush? McLeod asked. The attorney general is independent and accountable to the people. It s worked well for more than 77 years. One gigantic agency does not serve the public well.
Department of Public Safety Secretary Frank L. Perry counters that North Carolina is one of only three states where the attorney general controls the State Bureau of Investigation.
Perry said Whether the SBI is under Mr. Cooper or the DPS those (corruption) investigations cannot go away. That is obstruction of justice. In the case of the sweepstakes, a district attorney requested that. That case cannot vaporize not should it.
The budgets of the house and senate contain major differences but both contain the SBI move, which could take place at the end of summer.
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