Local News

Former Wake deeds official says she shouldn't lose pension over embezzlement conviction

Posted November 27, 2018 3:23 p.m. EST
Updated November 27, 2018 4:47 p.m. EST

— Convicted embezzler Laura Riddick is fighting for her pension, saying officials improperly docked it after she pleaded guilty in August to stealing nearly $1 million from the Wake County Register of Deeds Office.

Citing a mental condition that caused a compulsion to hoard money, Riddick skimmed from cash receipts that flowed into her office between 2010 and 2017 and often spent it on lavish trips. She is now serving five to seven years in prison for six felony counts of embezzlement by a public officer.

"Holding an elected position of trust, I committed a serious crime for which I will always be deeply remorseful," Riddick said during her court hearing.

But remorse doesn't extend to giving up her pension, especially after paying $926,615 in restitution to the county.

Steven Toole, director of the state Retirement Systems Division, recently sent Riddick a letter terminating her pension, saying she didn't have enough time accrued to draw a pension, and demanding repayment of the $126,290 she has received over the past 20 months.

Riddick cited health reasons when she retired in March 2017, just as an investigation into missing money from the deeds office was ramping up.

Toole maintains that Riddick's service time ended in 2012 amid her felonious activities. But Riddick argues that the state law that docks the pensions for public officials convicted of a felony doesn't include the charge to which she pleaded guilty, so it cannot be applied to her.

In her petition for a court order overturning Toole's ruling, she notes that she worked for more than 20 years as register of deeds, another six-plus years with what was then the state Department of Cultural Resources and converted another 2½ years of unused sick time to her retirement, making her eligible for a pension with more than 29 years of service time.

Docking her pension amounts to an unlawful taking of property and cruel and unusual punishment, both of which are violations of the state constitution, according to her petition.

"This is hubris incarnate, manifested audacity laced with temerity," current Wake County Register of Deeds Charles Gilliam said in a statement. "Laura Riddick now claims that the adjustment of a portion of her pension is unconstitutionally ‘cruel and unusual’ and is an ‘excessive fine. The only thing excessive is the amount of money she stole, the only thing unusual is the leniency of her plea-bargained sentence, and the only thing remotely cruel is the harm she continues to inflict on the people of our state."