More Players In Wake Schools Fraud Case Learn Fate
Posted September 18, 2006
Updated December 31, 2006
All those sentenced had pleaded guilty last year to charges that included from conspiracy, obtaining property by false pretenses and accessory after the fact in connection with the embezzlement case. Their plea deals were contingent upon their cooperation in the criminal investigation.
Authorities said at least $4 million was diverted within a period of at least one year from the Wake County Public School System's transportation department in an automotive parts scheme involving then-employees of the school system and a Wilson-based automotive parts company, Barnes Motors & Parts.
Investigators said the suspects processed fake orders for auto parts and bought gift cards, trucks, boats, trailers and other high-priced items with the payments.
On Monday, Carol Finch, a former budget analyst and 18-year veteran of the school system, was sentenced to six to eight years in prison and ordered to repay more than $100,000.
Finch was the primary source of attention for her role in the scheme and at one point during the fraud probe was believed to be a major player. Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby had asked for 40 years in prison, but said she was not the ringleader she was once thought to be.
"The more we learned about the investigation, it showed there was culpability that was much greater on some other people's part," Willoughby said.
Finch had been evasive and even denied who she was when WRAL confronted her in 2005. Her attorney, John O'Hale, said that since her arrest, however, she has accepted full responsibility and has since turned over assets she acquired as a result.
"When this scheme started, she went right along with it." O'Hale said. "We're making no excuses."
One other school-system employee, transportation department assistant Pam Stewart, was sentenced to 60 days in jail, five years' probation and community service. She was ordered to pay back more than $39,000.
Former Barnes managers Connie Capps and Bobby Browder were sentenced to terms of five to more than six years in prison. Judge Donald Stephens also ordered Capps to help pay back $500,000 with her husband, Harold Estes, who was convicted last month and sentenced to 11 to 15 years in prison.
Browder did not benefit financially as much as the others, Stephens noted. The judge added, however, that by allowing his employer to benefit from the scheme, Browder was still stealing.
"Stealing from the government in a democracy is stealing from us all, especially when you steal from the school system," Stephens said.
Earlier this year, former school system transportation director Vern Hatley was sentenced to seven to 10 years in prison. In January, Hatley, who pleaded guilty last year, requested that his plea be thrown out, but a Wake County judge dismissed the motion.
One other defendant in the case, transportation department employee Angela Malloy-Sanders, who also pleaded guilty, has yet to be sentenced. Because of health issues, her sentencing was delayed.
Since the investigation began, the Wake County school system has recovered nearly $5 million. Although the total amount of the fraud is unknown, the school system believes it will break even.
An attorney for the Wake County Board of Education said Monday that justice was served in the case. Willoughby echoed that.
"I think the judge sent a message that cases like this will be dealt with seriously and there will be harsh punishments for them," he said.