$600k+ missing from Wake County government office; probe widens

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — An investigation into missing money from the Wake County Register of Deeds has widened to dig into the past decade. Already, $606,237.03 is unaccounted for in 2015 and 2016, according to a spokesperson for Wake County.

CBS North Carolina first reported on the missing money in March. The district attorney and county manager did not put a figure on the missing funds at the time of their press conference, which came a day before the Register of Deeds, Laura Riddick, retired.

New documents just obtained by CBS North Carolina show new details of how county employees first noticed there was money missing, a realization that ultimately sparked the official investigation into the office.

The county first put new safeguards in place and the SBI and District Attorney Lorrin Freeman started digging, asking questions about what happened.

“Is this a misappropriation or is it simply faulty accounting?” she said.

CBS North Carolina’s Justin Quesinberry asked, “And at this point what does it sound like?”

Freeman said, “I think at this point there’s no question that large sums of money have been taken from that office.”

She said that’s “absolutely” a criminal act.

Now investigators continue to work to answer two big questions: how much money is missing and who took it.

“I don’t anticipate that there’s a large number of people involved, but at this point it does appear that there were likely multiple people,” Freeman said.

She said at any time six to 10 people collected and prepared deposits, including Riddick.

Documents show employees conducted their own kind of sting operation over the course of eight days.

They counted money before giving it to Riddick. Each day, after it passed through her hands, money was missing, according to documents. The amounts varied from $203 to $800 each day.

According to documents, the only day all the money was there was a day Riddick was out of the office. Freeman said that employee sting lacked certain controls, so she cannot rely on that information as part of the investigation.

Riddick retired April 1 – a day after the district attorney and county manager held a press conference about the investigation into missing money. At that press conference, Wake County Manager Jim Hartmann said, “Her retirement is unrelated to this investigation.”

Freeman said Riddick, citing health issues, had been out for surgery. She said she does not have any reason to believe Riddick was forced out.

“Obviously it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that there may have been more at play than just health reasons at that point,” Freeman said.

CBS North Carolina knocked on Riddick’s door for comment, but she did not answer. She did not return a call made to a phone number CBS North Carolina found for her.

Hartmann was unavailable for an interview Friday.

Freeman said the SBI’s investigation, which officially began in March, could take a total of six months to a year.

Troy Ellis, a technician at the Register of Deeds office, was fired earlier this year after confessing to taking $50,000.

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