Local News

Auto Parts Company To Plead Guilty In Wake Schools Fraud Case

Posted January 26, 2006
Updated November 18, 2006

— An automotive parts supplier indicted Tuesday on charges connected to a multimillion-dollar fraud scheme at the Wake County Public School System will plead guilty, according to the company's attorney.

Stephen Smith, the attorney for Wilson-based Barnes Motor & Parts chain, said Wednesday that his client would take responsibility for the actions of its employees -- former regional manager Bobby Browder and Connie Capps, a former manager at the company's Raleigh store.

In October, Browder and Capps pleaded guilty for their roles in the scheme that siphoned at least $3.8 million from the school system.

The indictment states that Barnes, through its officers and employees, allegedly generated invoices that stated it had sold and delivered supplies, parts and other items to the school system when it did not.

Authorities said that the company's name was also associated with more than $600,000 in gift cards given to transportation department employees.

"These gift cards, for the most part, by Barnes were purchased either by Barnes' credit card in Bobby Browder's name or by Connie Capps," said agent Gil Whitford with the State Bureau of Investigation. "Or sometimes, they were purchased by Barnes' check."

Karl Knudsen, a local criminal defense attorney, said indicting companies in state court is rare, but that the indictment holds Barnes accountable.

"(Its) failure to put a stop to it probably is one of the reasons they're seeking the indictment of the company," Knudsen said.

Knudsen said he could only think of a few other companies that had been indicted in Wake County over the past 30 years, including Ward Transformer, in a case where cancer-causing toxins leaked into Raleigh's Lake Crabtree.

Barnes' attorney said his client expects to meet with the Wake County district attorney to discuss possible fines. Any amount that it pays would go to the Wake County school system, which has already recovered about $2 million from the company and other suspects connected with the fraud scheme.

In addition to Browder and Capps, four former school transportation employees have pleaded guilty, including former budget analyst Carol Finch and former director Vern Hatley. Hatley's lawyer, however, recently filed a motion to withdraw his client's guilty plea.

According to its Web site, Barnes has 23 locations throughout Eastern North Carolina.
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