SBI investigates Smoot about election problems

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Sept. 22—OXFORD—State Bureau of Investigation officials have confirmed they are investigating whether Chris Smoot, deputy chief of the Granville County Sheriff, improperly used his office to jump-start his unaffiliated campaign for sheriff .

SBI spokeswoman Angie Grube said the investigation is ongoing.

She said the agency filed a request for an investigation from District Attorney Mike Waters on Aug. 31, and the question is whether Smoot “inappropriately used his position to organize his campaign and solicit support.” of employees of the Granville County Sheriff’s Office while they were being arrested.” paid.”

Further, there is “no additional information available” from the agency, she said Wednesday.

Waters confirmed that his office had “requested the assistance of the SBI” after County Attorney Jim Wrenn drew his attention to a County Board of Elections hearing in late June, which focused on whether Smoot had the required number of petition signatures. filed to run for sheriff as an unaffiliated candidate.

The board held the hearing after the Granville County Republican Party challenged Smoot’s candidacy. A GOP attorney, Boyd Sturges, was able to question Smoot and assure him that he had discussed his political plans with deputies and staff during two meetings at the sheriff’s office in late 2021.

Wrenn emailed Waters on June 26 — a Sunday, two days after Smoot testified and a day before the Electoral Council rejected the GOP challenge — to “let [Waters] I know that Deputy Smoot has admitted to committing conduct that I believe may constitute a crime.”

The county attorney specifically cited the state law addressing the misappropriation of funds by officials and trustees. In addition to outright theft, the statute speaks of acts that “willfully and corruptly use or misapply” public money or property.

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Wrenn told Waters he would have a transcript of the hearing “as soon as possible.” That was delivered to the DAs sometime before July 11th.

Waters said the request to the SBI came from his office “after reviewing the transcript and applicable law.” He added that Wrenn’s concerns “did not relate to conduct that would fall under the jurisdiction of the NC State Board of Elections.”

Asked for comment on Wednesday, Smoot said he was “not aware of any investigation by the SBI targeting myself or my campaign,” and that he “stands by my integrity to always conduct myself impeccably.”

“Since the beginning of my campaign to become Granville County’s next sheriff, I have been the subject of multiple attacks by the Republican Party to discredit my candidacy,” he said, pointing to the decision of the County Board of Directors. Elections, adding that he “Has endured numerous charges in an effort to oust me from the political race.”

“If there is such an investigation, the origin is clearly a political attack on 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 maintain my innocence and will continue to fight these unjust and unfair political attacks.”

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

The winner will replace suspended Sheriff Brindell Wilkins, who is facing charges in a training falsification scandal that has already resulted in a jail term for a former deputy sheriff, Chad Coffey, who was convicted of obstruction of justice. Wilkins testified at Coffey’s trial, admitting that he ordered Coffey to falsify the results of a number of shooting qualifications.

The scandal also led to the resignation of former Sheriff Charles Noblin, as one of his shooting qualifications was one of the points disputed. Noblin was the appointed sheriff who replaced Wilkins.

Noblin’s resignation helped Smoot land in hot water, as the first of two meetings in November 2021 where he discussed his political plans was an all-hands affair that he convened shortly after Noblin stepped down. Smoot’s lawyers at the Board of Elections hearing characterized it as an attempt to stabilize the department, saying deputies asked Smoot if he intended to flee.

Smoot testified that he told them he was thinking about it. He announced that he was on the run during a subsequent meeting with sheriff’s deputies and other staffers.

Granville County GOP Vice Chairman Michael Magnanti testified at the Board of Elections hearing that Johnson — Henderson’s assistant chief of police — had warned him about a possible “campaign rally” at the office of the sheriff.

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When questioning Smoot, Sturges admitted that the meetings were held in a government building while at least some of the delegates were on duty. Smoot also admitted that there were inappropriate election campaigns.

His attorney, Tom Currin, told the Electoral Council that there is a recording of at least one of the meetings. Neither party has used the recording as evidence for the board.

The current sheriff, John Hardy, also testified, telling the board that he instructed the deputies to “support whoever they wanted” in the election, but “to do it outside of county time and not use county resources. Granville County Commissioners appointed Hardy’s Sheriff in December 2021 to serve the remainder of Wilkins’ term.

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

“What shocked me is that Granville County Sheriff John Hardy has heard his chief deputy during affidavit admit to knowingly breaking the law and ignoring his sworn duty to act,” he said. Magnanti. “Sheriff Hardy isn’t doing anything, and I find that shocking. Granville County deserves better than the good ol’ boy network.”

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

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

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