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Missing attorney in ticket-fixing case found in Wilmington

Posted July 24, 2009

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— The search is over for a missing Johnston County defense attorney. Authorities found Chad Lee, 32, at a hotel in Wilmington Friday morning.

Lee, of 3751 U.S. Highway 301 South in Smithfield, was indicted in March on charges that he altered court records and knowingly used illegal dismissal forms to get drunken driving and other traffic cases dropped.

Lee's father and brother told Johnston County Sheriff Steve Bizzell Tuesday they had not seen him since June 25.

Bizzell and Chief Deputy Bengie Gaddis went to Wilmington Thursday night to drive by hotels and see if they could find him. Lee attended the University of North Carolina-Wilmington and was known to frequently visit coastal areas like Wilmington, Morehead City and Myrtle Beach, S.C., authorities said.

At about 1:15 a.m. Friday, Bizzell and Gaddis spotted Lee's truck in the parking lot of a hotel on Market Street near Interstate 40. They then saw him standing outside getting some fresh air.

Lee told them he needed to get away for awhile, Bizzell said.

The sheriff gave him a ride back home, and Gaddis drove his truck. He was reunited with his father and brother at about 3 a.m.

Lee is one of six people indicted in the ticket-fixing scheme.

A source told WRAL News that Cyndi Jaeger, a former Johnston County assistant district attorney, gave at least one blank dismissal form to a defense attorney. A total of 37 dismissed cases are in question. The majority of the defendants who saw their cases dismissed were clients of Lee, a former Johnston County prosecutor.

The indictments show that 70 dismissal forms with Jaeger's signature were filed after she left her job in September 2007.  Jaeger is charged with 81 misdemeanor counts of failure to perform duty of office.

Former deputy court clerk Portia Snead and defense lawyers Lee Hatch, Vann Sauls and Jack McLamb face the same charges as Lee.

District Attorney Susan Doyle asked the State Bureau of Investigation to look into the high rate of dismissed drunken-driving cases in the county after a tracking system found several discrepancies in cases that were scheduled for trial but had been dismissed months earlier, she said.

A WRAL News investigation found that 46 percent of the DWI charges filed in Johnston County in 2006 were dismissed, compared with 21 percent statewide and 20 percent in neighboring Wake County. 

43 Comments

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  • Professor Jul 24, 2009

    You cannot run but for so long. May he receive his just in court and prison time.

  • retired and luv it Jul 24, 2009

    He'll have his day in court to answer his legal problems. In the meantime, what did he do to warrant such attention and action from the sheriff's dept and the media? Are we having a news shortage these days?

  • JOCO Guy Jul 24, 2009

    Good Job Sheriff!!! You and your Chief Deputy did what should have been done. From the looks of these postings, your already hi 76% approval rating is climbing. Keep up the good work and remember, Support Your Local Sheriff! I do.

  • amera06 Jul 24, 2009

    Chad and the family are in our prayers and we are so happy that everything ended the way we prayed that it would. Thanks so much to steve and his side kick for their hard work and determination to find Chad. We are truly thankful, and those who are talking smack and have no idea what it was like not knowing for the family maybe someday you will. He is 32, but with all the stress that he had on him and everything that was going on he just needed some time. We love you Chad and can't wait to see you. Take care!

  • jetset Jul 24, 2009

    Well, I know Steve Bizzell and I must say he is one fine man. I would trust him taking care of my son in that same situation.

  • dh1964 Jul 24, 2009

    FE - "dh1964, can you please advise where you got your information that the attorney was 'fleeing prosecution'?"

    Imagination, FE. I apparently have more of it than Mr. Lee. Indicted in March - facing jail time - disappears in June for almost a month? I guess I should have known he was just taking some long-overdue vacation time, without telling anyone where he was going.

  • slick rick da troll whisperer Jul 24, 2009

    i KNEW he was not missing all along. he just misplaced himself for a little while.

  • kbo80 Jul 24, 2009

    So does JC have jurisdiction in Wilmington and why didn't they have the Wilmington police to look for him? They don't work in that county.

  • Godschild43 Jul 24, 2009

    Glad he was found and safe.

  • likes2go Jul 24, 2009

    Guess most here missed the fact that he was reported as a "missing person". Thank God JC Sheriff handled the matter as such. Those of you who have every had a loved one missing know from where I come.... Too many times they are not found and cause themselves harm.

    We should all put ourselves in their family's shoes.

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