All four people, including ex-Wake County Register of Deeds Laura Riddick, who are charged with embezzlement after $2.3 million went missing from the Wake County Register of Deeds over the course of nearly nine years, have turned themselves in at the Wake County Detention Center.
Riddick was indicted Tuesday on six counts of embezzlement by a public officer, with officials alleging she took more than $925,000.
Three others from the Register of Deeds office were also indicted. Troy Ellis, Murray M. Parker, and Veronica Gearon were also indicted on charges of embezzlement by a public officer. They were not with Riddick when she turned herself in Wednesday morning.
Riddick went before a magistrate judge Wednesday morning and was given a $700,000 secured bond. She posted bond and got into a waiting SUV outside the detention center around 9:45 a.m.
Ellis turned himself in around 10:30 a.m. Wednesday and was given a $5,000 secured bond. Parker turned himself in around 11 a.m. and was given a $50,000 secured bond. Gearon turned herself in Thursday morning. It’s unclear what bond Gearon was given, but all three were able to post bond.
Riddick retired in the spring citing health issues. She announced her retirement the same day the district attorney held a news conference to announce that an investigation was underway.
The official charge against Riddick is embezzlement by a public official of more than $100,000.
A Wake County grand jury met this week to discuss a possible indictment stemming from an investigation into millions of taxpayer dollars discovered missing from the county Register of Deeds’ office.
District Attorney Lorrin Freeman confirmed earlier Tuesday that the grand jury was meeting.
After the indictments were announced, Freeman talked to CBS North Carolina Tuesday.
“I commend the State Bureau of Investigation for the work that they did in this case,” Freeman said. “I think is important to note … that the county took immediate steps to make sure that audit process and things in the office were put in place to try to prevent any additional unaccounted for funds.”
An audit showed $2.3 million vanished from the Wake County Register of Deeds office over a nearly nine-year period ending in March 2017, according to findings released in September.
The Register of Deeds is an elected position, which Riddick held for about 20 years.
A Wake County commissioner has said that total reflects how far back investigators were able to piece together numbers, but that there’s no indication that June 2008 is actually when the money started to go missing.
Court documents show Troy Ellis III, a former employee of the office, has admitted to taking $50,000.
Ellis worked as a technician for the Register of Deeds from Dec. 2010 to April 2017, making a salary of $37,294 when he was fired. Veronica Gearon was a supervisor in the office, working there from March 2002 to Dec. 7 of this year. Her salary was $58,344. Murray Parker worked in the office from May 1997 until his retirement in March 2013. He was an assistant register of deeds who made $79,605 and is accused of embezzling around $74,000.
CBS North Carolina attempted to contact all four people facing charges but did not receive responses from any of them.
Parker’s attorney spoke with CBS North Carolina after his client turned himself in. When asked if his client had anything to say to the people of Wake County, attorney James Little said, “I can only say at this time that we are still in the early stages of this matter. He looks forward to resolving it. Based on the rules of professional conduct, at this time I have to refrain from any further comment.”
Search warrants unsealed Wednesday give additional details about the investigation.
In a request for a search of Riddick’s bank records, an investigator wrote, “The review showed cash deposits totaling $875,365 were made from August 4, 2010 to January 31, 2017 into those bank accounts.”
The investigator wrote, “… Riddick, during some of the years she served as Register of Deeds, was provided an envelope containing cash collected from the Register of Deeds’ Recording and Marriage section, at the end of the business day. Riddick counted the cash while alone in her office. Riddick was the first person to count the cash collected from that section.”
In Parker’s case, an investigator wrote that he interviewed Parker, who claimed he had deposited cash in one of his accounts from “selling some furniture and a treadmill.” Parker told investigators about accounts he had with two financial institutions.
The investigator wrote, “A review of the records from those two financial institutions showed at least $85,000 in cash was deposited in the State Employees’ Credit Union account, from June 5, 2008 to January 8, 2013.”
In the process of reviewing the records, the investigator discovered a third account that “Parker did not disclose that he had” with another bank.
In Veronica Gearon’s case, an investigator wrote, “… she said she obtained the cash deposited in her account from a friend, her mother and her son.” The investigation found that her son’s paychecks were deposited into her account from April 2013 to May 2014. In addition, the investigator found six checks from her son July 2014 to June 2015. Those deposits accounted for about $9,000 in cash out of $49,950 deposited during that time period, the investigator wrote.
Gearon said her mother died in March 2016. When the investigator asked her who the friend is she claimed deposited money, “Gearon declined to provide the name of her friend, at which time she ended the interview.”
Current Wake County Register of Deeds Charles Gilliam issued a statement late Wednesday morning regarding the case:
Over several days in January 2017, some Register of Deeds staff members conducted an ad hoc audit and investigation of suspect transactions. Staff members determined that money was unaccounted for, calculated amounts missing, collected evidence, and presented a report to Wake County management at the end of January.
The subsequent investigation by official authority supplied additional information and confirmed that the gravamen of what was reported in January was correct.
If this ad hoc audit had not been initiated money probably would still be walking out the courthouse door today.
What was done in the past is in the past. As long as I am here this past shall not be prologue.
Yesterday’s indictments are exemplary of a statewide problem. Theft by public officials occurs far too often. We must be vigilant in every city, town, school system and county and step up efforts to audit, verify and root out dishonesty.”