SBI investigating Smoot over electioneering concerns

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Sept 22 – OXFORD – State FBI officials have confirmed that they are investigating whether Chris Smoot, deputy chief of the Granville County Sheriff’s Office, improperly used his office to start his unaffiliated campaign for mayor.

SBI spokeswoman Angie Groppi said an investigation was ongoing.

She said the office sent a request for an investigation from County District Attorney Mike Waters on August 31, and the issue is whether Smoot “improperly used his position to campaign and garner support from employees of the Granville County Sheriff’s Office while they were on the pay.”

She added on Wednesday that other than that, “no additional information is available” from the office.

Waters confirmed that his office “asked the SBI’s assistance” after County District Attorney Jim Wren drew his attention to a county assembly hearing in late June that focused on whether Smoot submitted the required number of petition signatures to run for mayor as an unaffiliated candidate.

The board held its hearing after the Granville County Republican Party challenged Smoot’s nomination. Republican attorney Boyd Sturgess was able to question Smoot and obtained confessions from him that he discussed his policy plans with MPs and staff during two meetings at the mayor’s office in late 2021.

Wren emailed Waters on June 26 — a Sunday, two days after he testified and a day before the Board of Elections rejected the GOP challenge — to “allow [Waters] I know Vice President Smoot has admitted behavior that I believe may constitute a felony.”

The district attorney specifically cited state law that addresses misappropriation of funds by public servants and guardians. In addition to external theft, the law speaks of acts that “use, misuse or abuse” public money or public property.

Wrenn told Waters he would have a transcript of the hearing “prepared as quickly as possible.” This was delivered to DA sometime before July 11th.

Waters said his office’s request to the SBI came “after reviewing the text and applicable law.” He added that Warren’s concerns “did not include conduct that would be within the purview of the North Carolina State Board of Elections.”

In response to a request for comment, Smoot said Wednesday that he was “not aware of the SBI investigation targeting myself or my campaign” and that he stands “by my integrity and always acts above reproach.”

“Since the beginning of my campaign to become the next Granville County mayor, I have been subjected to multiple attacks by the Republican Party to discredit my candidacy,” he said, referring to the county board’s election decision, adding that he had “withstood numerous accusations in an attempt to keep me out of the political race.”

“If such an investigation emerges, it is clear that the origins are a political attack against me and my supporters,” Smoot said. “As an independent candidate, I pose a threat to a political machine that will stop at nothing to gain an unfair advantage in this election. I insist on my innocence and will continue to fight these unjust and unjust political attacks.”

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Smoot is one of three mayoral candidates this fall. The others are Democratic Party candidate Robert Fountain Jr. and Republican candidate Vance Johnson.

The winner will replace suspended Sheriff Brendel Wilkins, who has been indicted in a training records falsification scandal that has already resulted in a prison sentence for former MP, Chad Coffey, who has been convicted of obstruction of justice. Wilkins testified at Kofi’s trial and admitted that he had instructed Kofi to falsify the results of some of his shooting qualifications.

The scandal also led to the resignation of former mayor Charles Noblen, with one of his shooting credentials being among those disputed. Noblen was the warden appointed to fill in Wilkins.

Noblen’s resignation helped bring Smoot into hot water, as it was the first of two November 2021 meetings where he discussed his political plans for an overarching issue he called shortly after Noblen stepped down. Smoot’s lawyers at the election board session described the matter as an attempt to stabilize the constituency, and said that MPs asked Smoot if he intended to run.

Smoot testified that he told them he was thinking about it. He announced that he would run during a subsequent meeting with deputies and other Sheriff’s office employees.

Granville County Republican Vice President Michael Magnante testified during an election board hearing that Johnson — an assistant chief of the Henderson Police Department — alerted him to a potential “campaign meeting” at the mayor’s office.

Upon questioning Smoot, Sturgis made him admit that meetings were held in a government building while at least some of the deputies were on duty. Smoot also admitted that there were improper electoral actions.

His attorney, Tom Korn, told the Board of Elections that there was a recording of at least one of the meetings. Neither side placed the recording as evidence on the plate.

The current mayor, John Hardy, also testified and told the board that he had instructed Representatives that they “were able to support whomever they wanted” in the election but that “they had to do so outside of county times and could not use the county’s resources.” Granville County commissioners appointed Hardy Sheriff in December 2021 to serve the remainder of Wilkins.

Magnanti said Wednesday afternoon that he was “not surprised that there is an active investigation” given Smoot’s admission at the hearing.

“What shocked me was that Granville County Mayor John Hardy overheard his principal deputy willfully admit to violating the law while testifying, disregarding his sworn duty to act,” Magnanti said. “Sheriff Hardy does nothing, which is shocking to me. Granville County deserves better than the ‘good ol’ boy’ network.”

Contact Ray Gronberg at [email protected] dispatch.com or by phone at 2850-436-252.

Contact Ray Gronberg at [email protected] or by phone at 2850-436-252.

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