Wake County tightens money-handling rules after nearly $900,000 vanishes

Wake County Board of Commissioners (CBS North Carolina)

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Wake County leaders are making changes to how employees handle money amid a criminal probe into how $895,000 went missing from the Register of Deeds Office.

CBS North Carolina obtained a report County Manager Jim Hartmann sent commissioners Friday outlining the changes. You can read that report here. (pdf document)

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“We believe the theft in the Register of Deeds Office is an isolated occurrence and not reflective of practices elsewhere in the county. Nevertheless, I feel intensifying our efforts on controls countywide is an absolute priority to be accomplished quickly in a measured manner,” Hartmann wrote.

The report to commissioners came at the end of a week where some of them questioned whether Hartmann was reacting quickly enough to ensure taxpayer money is properly accounted.

“In the end, we are in the public trust, and this is taxpayer dollars at stake here. So, we want to do our role in making sure county government is working well and efficiently,” said Commissioner Greg Ford.

In his letter, Hartmann says the county has adopted a formal policy on fraud, waste and abuse. In addition, he says all department and agency heads had to certify their understanding of the county’s policy on cash management.

Each department will also designate one or more employees to act as a treasury contact for each deposit location. The treasury contact is “responsible for ensuring county and departmental procedures are properly followed.”

Further, approximately 300 employees who handle cash will receive new training.

“We have a responsibility here to make sure all of our cash-handling procedures are nice and tight here in the county,” said Ford.

A criminal investigation is underway in addition to an audit that’s been ongoing by the county.

District Attorney Lorrin Freeman said investigators are still working to obtain bank records. She anticipates the investigation to finish by the end of August or early September, at which point criminal charges will be filed if warranted.

The former Register of Deeds, Laura Riddick, announced her retirement the same week the criminal investigation became known to the public. She cited health reasons for her retirement. CBS North Carolina attempted to reach for comment Monday but did not get a response.

County commissioners appointed Charles Gilliam to oversee the office following Riddick’s retirement.

“Because we did have some criminals in the office in the past, we want to make sure that everybody understands that we’re not going to allow it to happen again,” he said.

Gilliam has made changes to how employees handle money. For example, he said all cash now has to be counted five times by four employees. In addition, he said checks are counted four times by three different people.

“It ought to be a wake-up call to people to make sure that what went wrong here under the old register of deeds can’t be going wrong other places,” he said.

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