Local News

WRAL Investigates Purchases By Wake Schools Transportation Dept., Bus Parts Supplier

Posted January 26, 2005

— Big-screen TVs, stereo equipment, video cameras and appliances are not what you expect to find in transactions between a school bus yard and parts supplier. However, there is proof about those purchases made by or for employees with the Wake Schools Transportation Department.

Stacks of invoices from Garner TV and Appliance show orders for a variety of luxury items, including home theater systems and big-screen TVs. The bills went to Barnes Motor and Parts, which became a major supplier to the Wake Schools Transportation Department. The names of some transportation employees appear on a half-dozen orders.

A source, who wished to remain anonymous, alerted WRAL to the purchases.

"Home theater systems, camcorders and just extra stuff as far as electronics are concerned. It looks like they liked the electronics," the source said.

When asked how much the employees purchased together, the source replied, "Altogether, it was about $35,000."

The State Bureau of Investigation is looking into the business relationship between the bus yard and the parts company, specifically whether or not there were kickbacks.

Three Transportation Department employees, Carol Finch, Pam Stewart and Angela Malloy-Sanders resigned in August. In September, Barnes fired two managers.

The source told WRAL that employees from both places shopped together. The orders show three big-screen TVs went to a Barnes office in Raleigh. WRAL found a fourth big-screen TV and several other appliances were delivered to Finch's home near Benson. A fifth TV was delivered to Stewart's home in Wendell, along with a washer and dryer and home entertainment system.

The school system bought parts and paint from Barnes, but it does not think it was getting what it paid for. A report obtained by WRAL shows Barnes did $200,000 in business four years ago. The next year, it was $1 million in business. The last two years, it was $4 million for each year.

In addition to the electronics and appliances, the state is investigating computer purchases. WRAL has learned computers from Computer Central and office supplies from Carolina Office Supply were billed for the school system through Barnes Motor and Parts. Thousands of dollars in retail gift cards are also in question.

"We don't know the extent of what the district attorney and SBI are going to have, but quite frankly it's not going to surprise us," said Michael Evans, spokesman for Wake County schools.

So far, no criminal charges are filed. It does not appear that the stores where purchases were made did anything wrong.

District Attorney Colon Willoughby said the investigation is not complete. He said the sheer volume of information being looked at requires a lot of man hours.

Barnes Motor and Parts returned $1.3 million to the Transportation Department. Vern Hatley, the head of the schools' Transportation Department, was first demoted. He later resigned. WRAL has tried several times to speak with him and the employees who resigned, but they declined.

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