Local

Sewerage probe reaches grand jury

A federal investigation into allegations involving Union County government and county officials has reached a federal grand jury, according to the Union County attorney and a former county advisory board member.

For more than a year, the FBI has been looking into Union County government and particularly how it provides sewer service. Sewer capacity is limited in the fast-growing area and much of the soil doesn't accommodate septic systems. Developers often have millions of dollars riding on whether they can gain access to county sewer lines.

The grand jury probe came to light after county attorney John Burns was questioned recently about Union's skyrocketing legal expenses last fiscal year. They included more than $73,000 for high-profile attorneys to represent three Union commissioners in the FBI investigation.

Hiring the lawyers was “not only prudent, but necessary,” Burns said in an e-mail.

“There have been allegations involving a number of individuals, including the commissioners, arising from the course and scope of their public service to Union County,” Burns wrote. “Although those allegations are groundless as they relate to the commissioners, they are nevertheless being investigated by the FBI through the grand jury proceedings.”

Former public works advisory board member Irene Broaddus says she testified earlier this year before a federal grand jury in Charlotte. Questions centered on her involvement with The Woods, a luxury home development planned for Weddington that had been stalled for lack of sewer service.

Broaddus says she “was not called as a target, I was just called as a witness.”

County officials in January revealed they had turned over to the Union County district attorney a series of e-mails between Broaddus and developer Ashley Campbell, one of the partners in The Woods project. The e-mails focused on the company's desire to get county approval for a sewer pump station for The Woods. In the e-mails, Broaddus offered to lobby for the company in exchange for a fee of up to $37,500.

Neither the FBI nor the U.S. Attorney's office would comment on the investigation or the grand jury.

A grand jury can decide, based on evidence brought by federal investigators and the U.S. Attorney's office, whether to indict. Or, no one may ever be charged. The proceedings are secret under federal law.

County commissioners Allan Baucom, Parker Mills and Kevin Pressley hired the Wyatt & Blake law firm in Charlotte for the FBI investigation. They could not be reached for comment.

Earlier this year, six people told the Observer they had spoken to FBI agents. All are currently or formerly affiliated with county government, either elected, hired or appointed. All but Broaddus asked that their names not be published. They all said conversations with investigators included the county's sewer system or sewer capacity allocation.

Recently, another former public works advisory board member said he was contacted by both the FBI and the State Bureau of Investigation. Darryl Mabe met with investigators at a Waxhaw coffee shop in March, he said.

“They asked whether we (board members) were told to vote certain ways,” Mabe said. “They asked how people tried to influence any … recommendations we made.”

Ashley Campbell, with the development group trying to build The Woods, says he has not spoken to a grand jury. He says he did talk to federal investigators early this year when asked about the e-mails with Broaddus.

“They asked me what was the history of the project, what were the events that gave rise to her even making those statements, what was my reaction, what did I do next,” Campbell said.

In the past 18 months or so Union County – seventh fastest-growing in the nation – learned it lacked enough sewer capacity to serve all developers who wanted it. The county enacted a moratorium, then set to work figuring out which developers would get the valuable service.

A federal investigation into allegations involving Union County government and county officials has reached a federal grand jury, according to the Union County attorney and a former county advisory board member.

For more than a year, the FBI has been looking into Union County government and particularly how it provides sewer service. Sewer capacity is limited in the fast-growing area and much of the soil doesn't accommodate septic systems. Developers often have millions of dollars riding on whether they can gain access to county sewer lines.

The grand jury probe came to light after county attorney John Burns was questioned recently about Union's skyrocketing legal expenses last fiscal year. They included more than $73,000 for high-profile attorneys to represent three Union commissioners in the FBI investigation.

Hiring the lawyers was “not only prudent, but necessary,” Burns said in an e-mail.

“There have been allegations involving a number of individuals, including the commissioners, arising from the course and scope of their public service to Union County,” Burns wrote. “Although those allegations are groundless as they relate to the commissioners, they are nevertheless being investigated by the FBI through the grand jury proceedings.”

Former public works advisory board member Irene Broaddus says she testified earlier this year before a federal grand jury in Charlotte. Questions centered on her involvement with The Woods, a luxury home development planned for Weddington that had been stalled for lack of sewer service.

Broaddus says she “was not called as a target, I was just called as a witness.”

County officials in January revealed they had turned over to the Union County district attorney a series of e-mails between Broaddus and developer Ashley Campbell, one of the partners in The Woods project. The e-mails focused on the company's desire to get county approval for a sewer pump station for The Woods. In the e-mails, Broaddus offered to lobby for the company in exchange for a fee of up to $37,500.

Neither the FBI nor the U.S. Attorney's office would comment on the investigation or the grand jury.

A grand jury can decide, based on evidence brought by federal investigators and the U.S. Attorney's office, whether to indict. Or, no one may ever be charged. The proceedings are secret under federal law.

County commissioners Allan Baucom, Parker Mills and Kevin Pressley hired the Wyatt & Blake law firm in Charlotte for the FBI investigation. They could not be reached for comment.

Earlier this year, six people told the Observer they had spoken to FBI agents. All are currently or formerly affiliated with county government, either elected, hired or appointed. All but Broaddus asked that their names not be published. They all said conversations with investigators included the county's sewer system or sewer capacity allocation.

Recently, another former public works advisory board member said he was contacted by both the FBI and the State Bureau of Investigation. Darryl Mabe met with investigators at a Waxhaw coffee shop in March, he said.

“They asked whether we (board members) were told to vote certain ways,” Mabe said. “They asked how people tried to influence any … recommendations we made.”

Ashley Campbell, with the development group trying to build The Woods, says he has not spoken to a grand jury. He says he did talk to federal investigators early this year when asked about the e-mails with Broaddus.

“They asked me what was the history of the project, what were the events that gave rise to her even making those statements, what was my reaction, what did I do next,” Campbell said.

In the past 18 months or so Union County – seventh fastest-growing in the nation – learned it lacked enough sewer capacity to serve all developers who wanted it. The county enacted a moratorium, then set to work figuring out which developers would get the valuable service.

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