A state-county investigation into the more than $2.3 million found missing from the Wake County Register of Deeds office will stretch through December, with a grand jury impaneled before the end of 2017, Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman said Monday.
The office sustained the losses between 2008 and 2017, according to a claim the county submitted to its insurers. The losses amounted to more than $100,000 a year for nine straight years and sparked investigations by the county, Freeman's office, and the State Bureau of Investigation. Officials involved with the investigation had said earlier that a grand jury could begin hearing evidence at the end of this month.
"We are in the final stages of our investigation into the misappropriation of funds within the Register of Deeds office and expect to present findings to the grand jury by the end of the year," Freeman said.
Prosecutors typically provide evidence to a panel of citizens meeting as a grand jury, whose job it is to decide whether people who may have committed crimes will be indicted. As many as five indictments are expected from the investigation, sources say.
The Register of Deeds office handles payments and documents for a variety of activities, including real estate records, marriage licenses, birth certificates, and business licenses. The investigation has taken more time than expected because of the sheer number of documents and financial accounts to be pored over, former county manager Jim Hartmann said earlier this year.
Wake County voters elect the Register of Deeds. The job was held from 1996 until March by Laura Riddick, who announced her retirement during the period when Hartmann and Freeman said publicly that the SBI would conduct an investigation of the missing funds.
Riddick said at the time that she was retiring because of bad health. She has not been available for comment since.
Some observers have attributed the lack of strict oversight of the register's financial records to a practice of overseeing elected officials less closely than other county department heads
. In the report to the insurance company, the county auditor said his office conducted cash-receipt interviews in ten departments in 2014, but none in the Register of Deeds office.