Ex-chief of workers association indicted


RALEIGH (AP) — The former executive director of a government employee union has been indicted on fraud-related charges involving more than $570,000 while at the State Employees Association of North Carolina over five years.

Dana Cope of Raleigh was indicted Monday by a Wake County jury on two counts of obtaining property by false pretenses.

The indictment accuses Cope of using association credit cards to pay for unauthorized personal expenses totaling $457,500, including electronic games, jewelry, vacations, massages and plastic surgery. Cope also submitted false invoices and made requests to the union to get checks to pay another $113,350 for items such as flying lessons and landscaping.

Cope led the 55,000-member organization for 15 years until resigning in February. By then, The News & Observer of Raleigh had reported on questionable spending, and Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman’s office began investigating. Freeman brought in the State Bureau of Investigation.

“When someone is in a position of public trust and they abuse that, they need to be held accountable,” Freeman said. “There are 55,000 victims, the members of the State Employees Association.”

Cope did not respond to an email from The Associated Press seeking comment Monday.

Roger Smith Jr., Cope’s attorney, wrote by email Monday evening his client has cooperated with the SBI and Freeman’s office from the beginning of their investigation. “Now that Dana has been formally charged he will continue to cooperate fully in answering these charges,” Smith said. It wasn’t immediately clear when Cope would go before a magistrate.

The counts are felonies, each punishable by roughly four years to eight years to prison for someone with an otherwise clean record.

An outside audit performed by the association’s parent union and released in April found nearly $500,000 in unjustified spending and credit card transactions related to Cope over two and a half years ending in February. The auditors also determined that Cope fabricated an invoice to a landscaping company and made $94,500 in excessive payments to the firm.

The State Employees Association is the most high-profile workers’ group in North Carolina state government and relies on member dues to cover its budget. It is a local of the Service Employees International Union but does not collectively bargain with the state.

Mitch Leonard, a veteran member who succeeded Cope as executive director, said in a release that group members and staff were saddened to hear of the indictment. Leonard said the group is taking all necessary steps “to secure SEANC from ever experiencing a breach of leadership again.”

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