The multiple investigations into the financial conduct of Dana Cope, former executive director of the State Employees Association of North Carolina, have expanded, according to the Wake County district attorney and a lawyer retained by SEANC.
The News & Observer independently obtained additional records of Cope’s spending. They show he used a SEANC credit card last fall for purchases from a luxury tour company, a North Hills art gallery, a Texas purveyor of upscale Western wear and a London clothier.
Those sorts of expenditures have prompted Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman to ask investigators to broaden their inquiry into Cope’s spending.
In addition, SEANC is working to claw back a severance payment given to Cope when he resigned.
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“Yes, there was a severance payment based upon representations that we quickly determined were not accurate,” said Hardy Lewis, a Raleigh lawyer retained by SEANC. “He has refunded half of it, and we expect Dana to pay all of it in short order.”
Lewis declined to disclose the amount of the severance payment, which was approved by SEANC’s executive committee.
At his direction, SEANC spent $109,000 with a landscaping firm that also has done extensive work at Cope’s Raleigh home. One check, for nearly $19,000, was made out to a defunct computer company and justified by a phony invoice. The landscaping firm cashed the check.
SEANC also hired the company that had done a major renovation to Cope’s home to manage a $330,000 project at its headquarters, despite the firm having no commercial experience.
SEANC is a private nonprofit that represents about 55,000 state employees and retirees. SEANC’s 59-member Board of Governors is meeting in Raleigh this weekend; Cope’s travails are expected to dominate the meeting.
The News & Observer obtained copies of credit card statements for some of Cope’s spending in September and October. The records show:
▪ Purchases of $1,168.44 and $2,205.06 at Flinks, an upscale art gallery and framing shop at North Hills.
▪ Spending $6,952.26 at Kensington Tours, which has been named among the “World’s Best Luxury Tours Specialists” by Fodors and “Best Luxury Adventure Companies” by Travel + Leisure.
▪ A purchase of $2,190 at Rewards, an Austin gift store famous for hand-tooled belts with buckles fashioned from solid 14-karat gold or solid sterling silver.
▪ Three purchases totaling $808.60 at the English clothier Charles Tyrwhitt, whose motto is “Home of Proper Shirts.”
▪ A bill for $150 at Blue Line Aviation, where Cope was taking private flight lessons.
‘We find them troubling’
Lewis, the lawyer retained by SEANC, said the organization was very concerned about the character and number of Cope’s credit card purchases.
“We find them troubling and don’t believe they are an appropriate use of SEANC funds, and we are going to rectify it,” Lewis said.
That attitude is different from earlier statements and actions from SEANC’s 11-member executive committee. In February, in response to questions from The N&O, the committee said it conducted a thorough review and found no misappropriation of funds or improprieties by Cope.
The executive committee asked The N&O to refrain from printing a story on Cope. After the story was published, SEANC President Wayne Fish said the story was “not true” but did not point to any errors.
Fish did not return telephone calls Friday.
A top priority
SEANC’s parent organization, the Service Employees International Union, has hired a Washington-area accounting firm to examine SEANC’s finances. Lewis expects the audit to be completed in the coming weeks.
Freeman said the expenditures on clothes and artwork are consistent with what her investigators are uncovering.
“We’ve expanded the investigation to cover a broad range of expenditures by Mr. Cope as executive director,” she said.
Freeman said that SEANC has been working cooperatively with investigators from the State Bureau of Investigation.
“The financial crimes unit of the SBI has been working expeditiously and has made this case a priority,” Freeman said.
Cope did not respond to messages sent via email and Twitter. His cellphone has been turned off.
On LinkedIn, a business networking website, Cope lists his current status as “Time out to reflect.......Spending quality time with my wonderful wife and awesome boys.”