Lorrin Freeman and Jim Hartmann
The State Bureau of Investigation has started a criminal investigation into possible financial irregularities in the Wake County Register of Deeds office, after Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman and county manager Jim Hartmann put the agency on notice of problems there.
Meanwhile, Register of Deeds Laura Riddick, who’s held the elected office since 1996, announced her retirement effective Saturday. In a Friday afternoon press conference, Freeman and Hartmann said Riddick’s retirement was the result of health problems, not the newly initiated investigation. Freeman cautioned against attaching too much significance to the timing of Riddick’s departure and the investigation. At the same time, she noted that the probe of the office’s handling of more than $14 million in annual receipts will have a broad scope.
“It's really important right now to note that we are not able to include or preclude anyone who might have access to the money,” Freeman said. “There is not a specific target to the investigation. We are not precluding that anyone in the office.”
Neither official would estimate the total amount of money that could have been touched by any misconduct in the office about forty employees. However, they called it a “substantial amount of money.”
“It's premature to publicly state a number,” Freeman said. “There is no final audit report at this point.”
Hartmann said the irregularities, which took place during a period of a year or possibly longer, were discovered when county staff members were working on improving processes in the department.
“The material time was right before the holidays,” Hartmann said. “It was brought to my attention in late January and early February.”
Riddick has been thoroughly cooperative with the initial phase of the investigation, the officials said.
Reelected five times since she took office in 1996, Riddick has campaigned on service to the legal community and the public. She completed a project that digitized and put online every Wake County property deed ever recorded, since 1785.