FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 5, 2018
WASHINGTON – Today, Campaign for Accountability (CfA), a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog group focused on public accountability, called on the North Carolina State Ethics Commission to investigate whether Tim Moore, Speaker of the North Carolina General Assembly, violated state ethics law by pressuring officials at the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to delay enforcing environmental laws on his company’s property.
CfA Executive Director Daniel E. Stevens stated, “Tim Moore directly intervened with state officials to avoid an expensive enforcement action on property he owned allowing him to rake in hundreds of thousands of dollars. Speaker Moore seems to have forgotten that no one is above the law. The State Ethics Commission should investigate and hold Speaker Moore accountable for his actions.”
Speaker Moore is the vice president and part owner of Southeast Land Holdings, LLC. In 2013, Southeast purchased a former Townsend poultry plant in Siler City, North Carolina for $85,000. The property contained two underground storage tanks (UST) for gas and diesel fuel, which are subject to DEQ regulations.
According to emails obtained by CfA through open records requests, in August 2014, DEQ Inspector Rose Pruitt initiated a process to enforce the state’s environmental laws on the property because the USTs had not been properly registered and needed to be permanently closed. For months, Speaker Moore repeatedly contacted DEQ seeking to delay the enforcement while he tried to find a buyer for the property.
In October 2014, DEQ granted Speaker Moore a 30-day extension, but told him that securing a buyer would not satisfy the regulations. Six months later, by April 2015, Speaker Moore still had not acted and DEQ again told him to close the USTs. In May 2015, Speaker Moore requested another extension, which Inspector Pruitt said was “unlikely.” Nevertheless, on May 14, 2015, DEQ reversed course and approved Speaker Moore’s request. One DEQ official said in an email, “Thanks for sending me the points we considered to make the extension.”
CfA repeatedly asked DEQ to provide the “points” referenced in the email, but the agency either could or would not produce them. Despite a clear records request, DEQ also initially failed to release any documents dating between Speaker Moore’s May 12 extension request and DEQ’s approval of the request on May 14. Only following CfA’s persistent inquiries over 8 months, did DEQ finally produce additional records, but still not the “points” used to facilitate the extension.
In addition to his efforts to influence DEQ officials, Speaker Moore also may have helped secure state and local tax credits for the eventual buyer of the property. Between November 2013 and September 2016 – the period Southeast owned the property – two different companies announced plans to take over the poultry plant with the help of millions of dollars in state and local funding. The speaker appoints one-third of the board members of the Rural Infrastructure Authority, one of the state agencies that awarded a grant to the eventual buyer, Mountaire Farms.
On September 22, 2016, Southeast finally sold the property to Mountaire Farms for $550,000 – allowing Speaker Moore to reap a windfall profit of $465,000. Less than two months later, Southeast filed a claim with DEQ to recoup $22,400 in cleanup costs associated with the USTs.
North Carolina law prohibits legislators from knowingly using their “public position in an official action or legislative action” that will result in a financial benefit to themselves or any business with which they are associated. In addition, public servants are required to make a “due and diligent effort” to avoid conflicts of interest.
Stevens continued, “This deal doesn’t pass the smell test. Speaker Moore was in regular contact with a state agency, which told him it couldn’t grant him any more extensions, but then the agency did an about-face, granting the extension, and it just so happens that the emails that might have explained the agency’s changed position are unavailable. North Carolina residents deserve to know whether Speaker Moore abused his government position for personal financial gain.”
Campaign for Accountability is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, nonpartisan watchdog organization that uses research, litigation and aggressive communications to expose misconduct and malfeasance in public life and hold those who act at the expense of the public good accountable for their actions.