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MetLife hired McCrory's former firm for NC deal

Emery p. Dalesio, AP Business Writer

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- Gov. Pat McCrory avoided questions Friday about the state offering MetLife Inc. $94 million in tax breaks and other incentives to move thousands of jobs to North Carolina and using his former employer to help broker the deal.

The governor visited the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce to tout for a second day the announcement that MetLife would shift 2,600 jobs from offices in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and California to Charlotte and Cary. McCrory said the state worked hard to attract MetLife.

"Let me tell you there was a lot of competition for this," he said about one of the largest jobs announcements in North Carolina in years.

But McCrory refused to answer any questions about the deal, ignoring reporters' questions as he followed his aides to a waiting car. He took no questions during a similar event Thursday in Raleigh.

The big jobs announcement revives questions about McCrory and his work for Charlotte-based law and lobbying firm Moore & Van Allen. McCrory said last year he performed "client development work" at the firm, but is not a lawyer and had no specific clients.

And Friday, his aides continued to stress that he had no interaction with MetLife while at the law firm and limited involvement in brokering the deal as governor.

"There was no interface with the Governor at all till the very end," Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker told Charlotte-based WCNC-TV.

MetLife hired the company to help secure what is one of the largest packages in state history aimed at attracting one company. The New York-based insurance company began discussing a move to North Carolina about nine months ago, economic development officials said, while McCrory was still employed by Moore & Van Allen.

It's not clear when MetLife hired the law firm to work on an incentives deal and Moore & Van Allen spokesman Brian Nick, who last year performed the same job for McCrory's campaign, did not respond when asked how much MetLife paid the law firm.

Democrat Walter Dalton, who lost to McCrory last November, complained that McCrory, a Republican and former Charlotte mayor, never fully explained his work at Moore & Van Allen, making it hard for the public to know about potential conflicts of interest.

McCrory's predecessor, Democrat Beverly Perdue, also grappled with questions of inside connections and company-targeted tax breaks.

Perdue's son Garrett joined a prominent Raleigh law and lobbying firm within weeks of Perdue's election as governor in 2008. Months later, Perdue signed an executive order aimed at the governor avoiding conflicts of interest when the state offers companies multi-million-dollar incentive packages.

The order, which remains in effect, said the governor shall "take appropriate steps, considering the nature of the project and the level of involvement of the consultant, to limit her or his involvement in the project to the extent necessary to protect the public interest." That was especially important "when the impartiality of the governor ... might reasonably be questioned due to a financial, personal, or familial relationship with a consultant or that consultant's employees or agents."

Perdue recused herself from talks on incentive packages for Facebook, which broke ground on a Rutherford County data center in 2010, and a defense contractor that moved from Louisiana in 2009. In both cases, the former governor and her staff lawyers believed her son might be working on those deals.

Executive orders are not law and are binding only on the governor and agencies of the executive branch under the governor's supervision.

McCrory and his aides did not consult the State Ethics Commission about whether he faced any conflict of interest because his ex-employer helped negotiate MetLife's incentives offer, spokeswoman Kim Genardo said.

The governor's involvement in those incentives "was limited, extremely limited," Genardo said.

As governor, McCrory signed a $2 million grant that MetLife could collect if it meets job-creation targets. Several of the governor's top aides serve on a committee that voted Thursday to approve a grant that would allow MetLife to keep a portion of withholding taxes paid by new employees. That could be worth as much as $87.2 million over 12 years.

Local governments and other state perks pushed the total package offered to MetLife to almost $100 million.

Consultants negotiating incentives projects are required to provide notice to the state. The state Commerce Department provided a copy of Moore & Van Allen's notice dated four weeks ago. Neither the state agency nor the law firm responded to questions about whether Moore & Van Allen had earlier reported working on MetLife's incentives deal.

Genardo said McCrory had no interaction with MetLife while at the law firm.

"There was a complete firewall," Genardo said. McCrory's financial relationship with the firm ended with his Dec. 31 resignation, she said. He was sworn into office five days later.


AP Writer Mitch Weiss in Charlotte contributed to this report. Emery Dalesio can be reached at https://twitter.com/emerydalesio