Local News

Board Member: Wake School System Needs To Win Back Public Trust

Posted July 20, 2005

— Members of the Wake County Board of Education wants to make sure there is no chance for more abuse.

Investigators say millions of dollars disappeared from Wake County Public Schools System's transportation department in a complex scheme. School leaders believe eight people went on personal shopping sprees with taxpayer dollars.

Now, the school system is left with two goals in light of the investigation: to get back the money that was taken and to win back the public's trust.

When it comes to investigating the suspected fraud scheme, the district attorney says the school system not only cooperated, but that it also investigated its own employees.

"My biggest fear is that the public will characterize the whole system as this," said District Attorney Colon Willoughby. "This was a handful of folks who were exploiting a weak financial system."

Plus, the school board's attorney has recovered quite a bit from former transportation employees and the former parts company managers also suspected in the scheme.

Pam Stewart agreed to increase her payback from $17,000 to $40,000. Angela Malloy-Sanders promises to pay back $39,932. Former transportation director Vern Hatley has paid back $22,772. And Phil Lambert paid back $800.

On the Barnes Motor & Parts side, former manager Bobby Browder paid back $3,000. His co-worker, Connie Capps, turned over $170,000 in merchandise such as vacation homes, vehicles and golf carts.

Barnes also returned a check for $1.3 million to the school system. The company says it was a pre-payment for future orders.

Former transportation budget manager Carol Finch was arrested Tuesday after investigators say she was still out spending gift cards purchased with the school system's money.

The school system has tightened its financial controls, but school board members, like Ron Margiotta, say they still need to win back public trust. They are working on a plan to have an outside auditor go over school system finances for the past few years.

"Any gripe that anyone has about what we're doing, they're going to relate back to the fraud within the school system," Margiotta said. "So, we have to let everyone know we're doing anything possible to root out the fraud."

School board members are relying on experts from the State Auditor's Office and UNC's School of Government, among others, to decide how to do a thorough audit.

The school board is expected to discuss the matter on Aug. 9.


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