Chapel Hill lawyer missing--and so's money | Orange County | Indy Week

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Chapel Hill lawyer missing--and so's money

Car found with note

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John McCormick
  • John McCormick

There always were two sides to John McCormick, the Chapel Hill attorney who disappeared last week just as more than $1.3 million of his clients' money was found to be missing.

For two decades McCormick was the buttoned-down attorney for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Board of Education--a body with a knack for controversy as well as lengthy deliberations. He was cool to the press and rarely flustered in public, but had a reputation as a hard-nosed negotiator behind the scenes, especially when it came to land acquisitions for the growing district.

The other John McCormick was a land baron over some of Orange County's funkier properties--most in lower-income neighborhoods in Chapel Hill and Efland bought up over the years and managed as rentals.

He went missing July 10--the same day a lawyer representing real estate giant D.R. Horton came to his office about long-overdue transfers from closings McCormick handled for the homebuilder. He was last seen at 3 p.m. on the corner of Weaver Dairy Road and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The Herald-Sun reported that when McCormick's car was found on Whitfield Road near Duke Forest that night, there was a three- or four-page letter on the seat inside. Law enforcement officials have not revealed the note's contents. A search of the area by Duke police and tracking dogs was called off after a day.

Since then, the State Bar has frozen McCormick's trust accounts, the State Bureau of Investigation's financial crimes unit has opened an investigation, and D.R. Horton has filed suit claiming that McCormick failed to transfer $800,000 in sale proceeds. More suits are expected. The bar estimates McCormick's trust account is shy about $1.3 million. On Monday, Superior Court Judge Alan Baddour put an order of attachment on the roughly 30 properties--with a tax value of close to $7 million--owned by McCormick and his partnerships.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro school officials, meanwhile, have been quick to point out that while he was there for legal advice, McCormick did not handle any funds for the system.

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