Audit: $600,000 missing from Wake deeds office
Posted June 30
Updated July 2
Raleigh, N.C. — More than $606,000 went missing from the Wake County Register of Deeds Office over the past two years, according to an ongoing audit of the office.
Employees in the deeds office found "irregularities" in January as they were trying to improve cash-handling systems, according to Wake County Manager Jim Hartmann, so he brought in county auditors to go over the books. District Attorney Lorrin Freeman called in the State Bureau of Investigation in late March to assist in the probe.
"It's a disappointment to all of us and troubling," Freeman said Friday. "I think, any time it appears that an office has been managed in a way that money cannot be accounted for, that absolutely that is a violation of the public trust."
The deeds office handles millions of dollars in cash a year for everything from recording real estate transactions to issuing marriage licenses, birth and death certificates and new business filings. Investigators are looking at transactions going back a decade to determine how much money was taken.
Records from the audit obtained Friday by WRAL News show employees in the deeds office had suspicions their boss was behind the unbalanced books.
For eight days, employees changed the cash-handling procedures to see where it went missing in the chain. They found $200 to $800 missing every day after the cash left the office of then-Register of Deeds Laura Riddick. The one day Riddick was out of the office, no money was missing – in fact, the deposit showed a surplus of cash that day.
Riddick, who served as registrar for 20 years before retiring in March for health reasons, couldn't be reached Friday for comment.
Her attorney Joe Zeszotarski, declined to comment.
"Clearly, she is one of a number of individuals who had opportunity and access to the funds," Freeman said of Riddick.
The audit shows the office didn't follow standard accounting procedures under her leadership. Darryl Black, who claims he was forced to resign as deputy director of the office when he started looking into the unbalanced books, said he expects the audit to clear up the problem.
"I was disappointed when I faced resistance from management and staff while my responsibilities were reduced. I remain confident justice will be served and the taxpayers and recipients will be compensated for their losses," Black said in a statement.
No criminal charges have been filed in the case, but Troy Ellis, a technician at the office, was fired April 5 after he confessed to taking $50,000 within the last year. Ellis is now cooperating with investigators.
"We are very much focused on conducting an investigation that, at the end of the day, will hold up in court," Freeman said.