Records detail missing money from Wake County Register of Deeds office

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- Hundreds of thousands of dollars went missing from the Wake County Register of Deeds office over the last two years and the Wake County district attorney says it's likely multiple people will face criminal charges.

The State Bureau of Investigation launched an investigation last spring just as the longtime Register of Deeds Laura Riddick stepped down citing health reasons.

At the time, County Manager Jim Hartmann stressed her departure was not related to the investigation, but public records are placing Riddick at the center of cash management discrepancies within her office dating back several years.

While an internal audit is still underway, records show that so far, for the years 2015 and 2016, $606,237 in funds are unaccounted for.

Freeman said the SBI's Financial Crimes Division is looking into transactions dating back nearly 10 years.

The Wake County Register of Deeds office is a multi-million dollar operation that deals largely in cash, bringing in revenue from things like marriage licenses, birth, and death certificates.

Freeman said she first learned of the discrepancies on Feb. 1, 2017 in a meeting with Hartmann and the county attorney.

"What became apparent from the beginning was there had not been adequate controls in place within that office or even with the process of trying, to that date, to determine what was going on with the money."

Public records are pointing to Riddick, who, elected six times since 1996, served as Register of Deeds for two decades. According to the records from an internal audit and memo from IT Manager Jim Pollina, at the end of every day, Riddick was the first to count cash collected, put it in an envelope, and record the number.

Laura M. Riddick (official photo)

It was one of the cash management practices former Deputy Director Darryl Black, an industrial engineer with a background in performance auditing and administrative analysis, tried correcting after coming on board in March 2016.

"Had my suggestions been implemented several months of missing cash would not have occurred," Black said to Wake County commissioners during a public hearing on the budget in early June.

Black said he was surprised to see a lack of basic accounting checks and balances and when he blew the whistle, was forced to resign.

"Five months have gone by and that individual has not been charged," he told commissioners.

Employees later running a financial analysis report found every month, deposits compared to expected revenue were short $20,000 to more than $30,000.

Concerned staff then opted to secretly change procedure and count the cash before handing it off to Riddick. Every day over the course of about a week, except the one day Riddick was not at work, they found deposits would be over by a few dollars, then short hundreds after passing through Riddick's hands and the courier, Troy Ellis, who took her the cash envelope.

Ellis has since been dismissed. His letter of dismissal cites his confession of pocketing $50,000.

ABC11 tried contacting Riddick at her home in Raleigh and by phone, but have not heard back.

Freeman said with the SBI's investigation expected to last several more months, she's stopping short of calling Riddick a suspect.

"What I would say is that the Register of Deeds is one of a handful of people that certainly had a responsibility and when I say that, I mean a direct responsibility in the collection and counting and depositing of that money," Freeman said.

At the time of her resignation, Riddick had an annual salary of $143,267. ABC11 requested details of her benefits package, but has not heard back.
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