4 charged in Wake County Register of Deeds embezzlement case expected in court

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — The former Wake County Register of Deeds and three former employees are expected in court this morning.

The four former employees are accused of embezzling from the department after $2.3 million went missing over the course of nearly nine years.

Laura Riddick, Troy Ellis, Murray Parker and Veronica Gearon were indicted in December 2017 and bonded out of jail.

Riddick is charged with six counts of embezzlement by a public officer. Officials say she took more than $925,000 from the Wake County Register of Deeds office over several years. She retired last spring — citing health issues — at the same time the district attorney announced an investigation into money missing from her office.

The official charge against Riddick is embezzlement by a public official of more than $100,000.

The current register of deeds, Charles Gilliam, said “The system that Laura Riddick was operating down here [was] purpose-built to enable embezzlement.”

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Riddick was given a $700,000 secured bond when she was arrested on Dec. 14, 2017, and bonded out shortly after appearing before a magistrate judge.

Ellis turned himself in later that morning and was given a $5,000 secured bond. Parker turned himself in shortly after Ellis and was given a $50,000 secured bond. Gearon turned herself in on Dec. 15, 2017. It’s unclear what bond Gearon was given, but all three were able to post bond.

After the indictments were announced, Freeman talked to CBS North Carolina.

“I commend the State Bureau of Investigation for the work that they did in this case,” Freeman said. “I think is important to note … that the county took immediate steps to make sure that audit process and things in the office were put in place to try to prevent any additional unaccounted for funds.”

An audit showed $2.3 million vanished from the Wake County Register of Deeds office over a nearly nine-year period ending in March 2017, according to findings released in September.

The Register of Deeds is an elected position, which Riddick held for about 20 years.

A Wake County commissioner has said that total reflects how far back investigators were able to piece together numbers, but that there’s no indication that June 2008 is actually when the money started to go missing.

Court documents show Troy Ellis III, a former employee of the office, has admitted to taking $50,000.

Ellis worked as a technician for the Register of Deeds from Dec. 2010 to April 2017, making a salary of $37,294 when he was fired. Veronica Gearon was a supervisor in the office, working there from March 2002 to Dec. 7, 2017. Her salary was $58,344. Murray Parker worked in the office from May 1997 until his retirement in March 2013. He was an assistant register of deeds who made $79,605 and is accused of embezzling around $74,000.

CBS North Carolina attempted to contact all four people facing charges but did not receive responses from any of them.

Search warrants unsealed in December gave additional details about the investigation.

In a request for a search of Riddick’s bank records, an investigator wrote, “The review showed cash deposits totaling $875,365 were made from August 4, 2010 to January 31, 2017 into those bank accounts.”

The investigator wrote, “… Riddick, during some of the years she served as Register of Deeds, was provided an envelope containing cash collected from the Register of Deeds’ Recording and Marriage section, at the end of the business day. Riddick counted the cash while alone in her office. Riddick was the first person to count the cash collected from that section.”

In Parker’s case, an investigator wrote that he interviewed Parker, who claimed he had deposited cash in one of his accounts from “selling some furniture and a treadmill.” Parker told investigators about accounts he had with two financial institutions.

The investigator wrote, “A review of the records from those two financial institutions showed at least $85,000 in cash was deposited in the State Employees’ Credit Union account, from June 5, 2008 to January 8, 2013.”

In the process of reviewing the records, the investigator discovered a third account that “Parker did not disclose that he had” with another bank.

In Veronica Gearon’s case, an investigator wrote, “… she said she obtained the cash deposited in her account from a friend, her mother and her son.” The investigation found that her son’s paychecks were deposited into her account from April 2013 to May 2014. In addition, the investigator found six checks from her son July 2014 to June 2015. Those deposits accounted for about $9,000 in cash out of $49,950 deposited during that time period, the investigator wrote.

Gearon said her mother died in March 2016. When the investigator asked her who the friend is she claimed deposited money, “Gearon declined to provide the name of her friend, at which time she ended the interview.”

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