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SBI investigates Smoot over election concerns

Sep 22—OXFORD—Officials with the State Bureau of Investigation have confirmed they are investigating whether Granville County Sheriff’s Deputy Chief Chris Smoot improperly used his office to further his unaffiliated campaign for sheriff.

SBI chief spokeswoman Angie Grube said the investigation is ongoing.

She said the office sent a request for investigation to District Attorney Mike Waters on Aug. 31, and the question is whether Smoot “misused his position to organize his campaign and enlist the support of county Sheriff’s Office employees.” of Granville while they were being arrested. paid out.”

Beyond that, “no additional information is available” from the office, it said Wednesday.

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

The board held the hearing after the Granville County Republican Party contested Smoot’s candidacy. A Republican attorney, Boyd Sturges, was able to cross-examine Smoot and assured him that he admitted 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 took the test and one day before the election board rejected the GOP challenge, to “let [Waters] I know Deputy Chief Smoot admitted to conduct that I believe may constitute a felony.”

The county attorney specifically cited state law addressing embezzlement by public officials and trustees. In addition to total theft, the statute refers to acts that “willfully and corruptly use or misappropriate” public money or property.

Wrenn told Waters that he would have a transcript of the hearing “prepared as soon as possible.” That was turned over to the district attorney sometime before July 11.

Waters said the request to SBI from his office came “after reviewing the transcript and applicable law.” She added that Wrenn’s concerns “did not involve conduct that would be under the jurisdiction of the North Carolina State Board of Elections.”

Asked for comment, Smoot said Wednesday that he was “unaware of an SBI investigation directed at me or my campaign,” and that he stands “for my integrity to always conduct myself above reproach.”

“Since the beginning of my campaign to become the next Granville County Sheriff, I have been the target of multiple attacks by the Republican Party to discredit my candidacy,” he said, highlighting the decision by the county Board of Elections and adding that he is “I endured numerous accusations in an effort to get away from a political career.”

“If such an investigation comes out, then the origins are 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 against these unjust and unjust political attacks.”

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Smoot is one of three candidates running for sheriff in this case. The others are Democratic Party candidate Robert Fountain Jr. and Republican candidate Vance Johnson.

The winner will replace suspended Sheriff Brindell Wilkins, who is charged in a falsifying training records scandal that has already led to a prison sentence for a former deputy, Chad Coffey, who was convicted of obstructing justice. Wilkins testified at Coffey’s trial and admitted that he ordered Coffey to falsify the results of some shooting scores.

The scandal also prompted the resignation of former Sheriff Charles Noblin, as one of his qualifications as a marksman was among those at stake. Noblin was the appointed sheriff to replace Wilkins.

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

Smoot proved that he told them he was thinking about it. He announced that he would be running during a later meeting with deputies and other sheriff’s office staff.

Granville County GOP Vice Chairman Michael Magnanti testified during the Board of Elections hearing that Johnson, who is the deputy chief of the Henderson Police Department, had tipped him off about a possible “campaign meeting” at the sheriff.

Cross-examining Smoot, Sturges got him to admit that the meetings were held in a government building while at least some of the deputies were on duty. Smoot also admitted that there were inappropriate election campaigns.

His attorney, Tom Currin, told the Board of Elections that there is a recording of at least one of the meetings. Neither party put the recording into evidence for the board.

Current Sheriff John Hardy also took the test, telling the board that he had instructed deputies that “they could support whoever they wanted” in the election, but “they had to do it outside of county hours and they couldn’t use the county resources. Granville County Commissioners appointed Hardy Sheriff in December 2021 to serve out the remainder of Wilkins’ term.

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

“What shocks me is that Granville County Sheriff John Hardy heard his deputy chief admit that he knowingly broke the law during sworn testimony and is ignoring his sworn duty to act,” Magnanti said. “Sheriff Hardy is doing nothing, and to me that is shocking. Granville County deserves better than the ‘good guy’ network.”

Contact Ray Gronberg at rgronberg@henderson or by phone at 252-436-2850.

Contact Ray Gronberg at or by phone at 252-436-2850.



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