Wake County officials say about $2.3 million went missing from the Register of Deeds office between 2008 and 2017, according to a new insurance claim.
The official amount that's missing—$2.333,591.30—puts an exclamation point on the ongoing Wake County scandal involving the apparent embezzlement of wads of cash, on a near-daily basis, for nearly a decade. In part of the 266-page document dated August 24, director of internal audit John Stephenson lays out the year-by-year trail of missing revenue. An investigation showed amounts in the six figures missing for nine straight years—$124,911.04 in 2008, the earliest year for which records remain, and a peak of $326,743.31 in 2012.
The "proof of loss" statement signed by county manager Jim Hartmann is designed to tell the insurance company "how the loss was caused, when the loss occurred," and other details of the claim. A Wake County investigation and subsequent State Bureau of Investigation probe have found that the register's office, under the direction of former register Laura Riddick, failed to keep accurate records and handled cash loosely.
Riddick, initially elected in 1996, retired in March, at the same time Hartmann and Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman announced that the SBI would investigate the missing funds. The officials attributed Riddick's departure to poor health, not the missing funds. Riddick has not been available for comment since her retirement. (Hartmann has since announced that he, too, will be leaving his post at the end of October, to move to Florida and be closer to his family.)
Warren sent the proof-of-loss account to a Travelers Casualty and Surety Co. office in Charlotte. A two-page narrative says the discovery of the losses began with a move to automate the office's monthly reports. The goal was to track numbers of documents as well as the amount of money received by the office.
But office staff soon noticed substantial amounts of missing cash were going undetected. These discoveries started a chain of events that led to internal audits, the announcement of the state investigation, and an employee named Tray Ellis confessing to stealing $50,000.
The county is undergoing an outside audit by the accounting firm Elliot Davis, to be submitted to the county on Friday, officials say. Meanwhile, the criminal probe continues.