Local Politics

Former Wake employee's expense records go to DA

Wake County Manager David Cooke turned over a spreadsheet of credit card expenses for a former recycling coordinator to the Wake County District Attorney's Office Friday.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Wake County Manager David Cooke turned over a former employee's county credit card records to the district attorney's office Friday.

In a letter to Assistant District Attorney Howard J. Cummings, Cooke wrote that former recycling coordinator Craig Wittig's work-related expenses from April 2006 until April 2008 totaled $37,350.46.

"As stated earlier, we are interested in options that the county has to recover funds or property or take other legal action in this matter," Cooke wrote to Cummings.

Wittig was fired June 3 from the county's Solid Waste Management Division after an internal review raised questions about travel expenses involving 46 trips since he was hired in 2006.

Wittig has said that each trip – to destinations such as Disney World and Las Vegas and the coast of Maine for whale watching – were to research environmental programs in other parts of the country so that Wake County could develop a state-of-the art recycling program.

The county considers more than $19,000 questionable and nearly $10,000 recoverable.

Because the trips were approved, Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby said earlier this month, it is still unclear if the case could rise to a criminal level.

"The difference between fraud and bad stewardship often is in someone's intent – whether or not there is a misrepresentation or deceit in what they were doing," Willoughby said.

Earlier this month, solid waste facilities manager Jim Reynolds resigned after being on administrative leave in the wake of the discovery. Receipts show he signed off on most of the trips Wittig took.

County officials are trying to determine who else might have known about the trips.

In response to the discovery, the Wake County Board of Commissioners ordered an audit of all county departments for the past year and the Environmental Services Department for the past two years.

The commissioners are also looking for ways to increase public trust about county spending, including one suggestion to put expense reports online for the public to see.