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Audit questions use of state car by ALE chief

RALEIGH (AP) — The head of a state law enforcement agency used his government car and gas card to make his weekly commute from Raleigh to his home outside Asheville, a round trip of more than 500 miles, according to an audit.
The blistering 14-page audit report issued today also says N.C. Division of Alcohol Law Enforcement director John Ledford repeatedly tried to block the investigation by the Office of the State Auditor and ordered his subordinates not to talk or provide requested records. Ledford was often accompanied on the long drive by his hand-picked deputy director for operations, Allen Page, who lives near him.
The report says records showed Ledford and Page routinely used their state gas cards to purchase gas at locations near their homes, including purchases made on weekends. During one period in 2010 examined by the auditors, 11 of the 19 gas purchases made on Ledford’s state-issued card were made in western North Carolina.
Ledford, whose job is based in Raleigh, claimed he had an official business reasons for his frequent weekend trips to the region, but provided insufficient documentation to support that claim, according to the audit. State regulations forbid employees to use state cars for commuting or other personal travel.
State Auditor Beth Wood said Ledford, Page and others tried to obstruct her investigation by withholding documents, making misleading statements and telling witnesses not to cooperate.
Wood said Ledford and Page also tried to retaliate against those conducting the probe by lodging complaints and demanding to see the personnel files of the auditor’s staff examining their conduct. She said the audit was triggered by a tip called in to her agency’s fraud, waste and abuse hotline.
“Their use of the state-owned vehicles appears abusive and we recommend that the department consider disciplinary action against the director and the deputy director,” Wood said in a video posted on her agency’s website.
State law requires that the auditor have ready access to government employees. The law makes it a misdemeanor for someone to interfere “with the performance of any audit, special review, or investigation, or to hinder or obstruct the State Auditor or the State Auditor’s designated representatives in the performance of their duties.”
The former sheriff of Madison County, Ledford was appointed by Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue in 2009 to lead the ALE after his predecessor retired following a scandal involving missing guns and questionable spending. With about 100 full-time agents, the agency’s primary responsibility is to enforce state laws on the purchase and sale of alcoholic beverages.
A request for comment from Gov. Perdue about the audit’s findings received no immediate response.
A request for comment from Ledford was declined by Patty McQuillan, spokeswoman for the Department of Public Safety.
McQuillan also rebuffed an interview request from the Associate Press to Ledford’s supervisor, Public Safety Secretary Reuben F. Young.
In a letter included with the audit report, Young stood by Ledford, rejecting the auditor’s findings and denying his agency had attempted to obstruct the investigation. The agency was simply trying to be judicious in the release of information protected by state personnel privacy restrictions, Young said.
“During the course of investigation, it became increasingly clear that the inquiry was more focused on the employees than the processes,” Young wrote.
As for the auditor’s conclusion Ledford and Page couldn’t provide a legitimate business purpose for the weekly trips, Young said it was not the responsibility of the state employees to disprove allegations made to the auditor’s hotline.
“Given that your investigation failed to substantiate any violation by our employees of state law or policy with regard to the use of state-owned vehicles, your recommendation that we consider taking appropriate disciplinary action against the director and deputy director is manifestly inappropriate.”

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