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Ex-Director In Wake Schools Fraud Scheme Loses Appeal

Posted August 7, 2007

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— A former Wake County school system administrator cannot withdraw his guilty plea in connection with a multimillion-dollar fraud scheme, the North Carolina Court of Appeals has ruled.

The appellate court upheld a ruling by Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens, who denied a request by former school district transportation director Vern Hatley to pull out of his plea agreement and have a jury trial. Stephens sentenced Hatley to seven to 10 years in prison.

Hatley pleaded guilty on Oct. 11, 2005, to charges of conspiracy and obtaining property by false pretense for his role in a scheme involving fake orders to Wilson-based automotive-parts supplier Barnes Motors & Parts. Employees in the district's transportation department received kickbacks in the scheme.

Hatley later filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea after it appeared that his plea deal, which would have put him in prison for five to six years, would fall through.

Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby said Hatley didn't cooperate with the investigation, which was required to get the lighter prison sentence.

In February 2006, Hatley testified that he accepted the plea deal to spare his family and the Wake County school system further embarrassment.

He had admitted to accepting nearly $23,000 worth of items, including $11,000 in gift cards, from Barnes Motors & Parts. But he contended that his former budget analyst, Carol Finch, controlled and benefited from the criminal scheme without his knowledge.

Finch is serving a six- to eight- year prison sentence and must pay back more than $100,000 to the school system. Other former transportation department employees and former Barnes employees also received sentences ranging from 60 days to six years for their involvement.

A seventh defendant, Harold Estes, who is the husband of a Barnes employee, was found guilty and sentenced to 11 to 15 years in prison. He was the only suspect not to plead guilty.

It might never be known how much money the school system lost, but the Wake County school system has recovered at least an estimated $5 million.


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  • shine Aug 9, 2007

    He should have thought of that before signing the dotted line. He kept the heat off of himself initially and thought he could pull off a "reversi" .... didn't work - and that is good.

  • Aries82 Aug 8, 2007

    What ticks me off about this guy, he's claiming he had no idea this was going on. I thought he had retired from the military as a colonel? Makes me wonder what kind of commander he was.

  • dlb800 Aug 8, 2007

    All people have to do is say "It's for the children", and people
    are willing to give up their hard earned money and not bother to
    look at where it goes.

    Personally, I think everyone who was part of the fraud and higher should have gone to prison much, much longer.

  • scorekeep Aug 8, 2007

    Nancy, you are correct, I must have the names mixed up. Wasn't Vern Harper involved with Wake Co. at one time and is he the one that went over to RDU to be a spokesperson?

  • NCTeacher Aug 7, 2007

    flipit- you are just being rude.

  • Nancy Aug 7, 2007

    scorekeep, that combover was Wyatt Harper, no Vern Hatley, Hatley was bald and proud of it.

  • scorekeep Aug 7, 2007

    He used the money for a hair transplant! He used to have the worst comb-over in history. The arrogance evidence I am reading on this board ties right in with the comb-overs.

  • turkeydance Aug 7, 2007

    Graft is rampant in NC Public Schools. there are 100 counties
    in NC. in 62 of them, the school system is the largest employer
    in that county. if you want to do business with the schools OR
    you want a non-teaching job, you have to "pay up". some folks
    in the Wake system just don't realize that Wake's Too Big to pull that kind of trick anymore. too many eyes watching.

  • Sidekick Aug 7, 2007

    It is time for a state wide audit of all school system finances. However, I do think they are exempt from such.

  • colliedave Aug 7, 2007

    It might never be known how much money the school system lost, but the Wake County school system has recovered at least an estimated $5 million.

    Again, this shows the need to remove the "edjukrats" from the administration and run the system as a not-for-profit business.