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Final Suspect In Wake Schools Fraud Scandal Heads To Trial

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Testimony began Tuesday in the trial of a man accused of conspiracy in an auto parts scheme that investigators said siphoned millions of dollars from the Wake County Public School System.

Harold Estes is one of seven people implicated in the alleged scheme involving four former employees of the school system's transportation department and two former employees of Wilson-based Barnes Motor & Parts.

Estes was the boyfriend of one of Barnes employees Connie Capps. Since being indicted in September 2005, Estes has married Capps.

He was charged with one count each of conspiracy and obtaining property by false pretenses. He is the only suspect in the investigation who pleaded not guilty to charges in the case.

Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby plans to show how a total of about $500,000 moved in and out of Estes' personal financial accounts in 2003 and 2004.

Estes' attorney, David Long, does not dispute that his client benefited but called him an outsider who was not involved in the scheme.

"We will submit to you that there will be no evidence ... to connect him to the fraud," Long told the jury on Tuesday.

Investigators said the suspects took at least $4 million from the school system by using orders for fake parts and used the money to buy gift cards, trucks, boats, trailers and other high-priced items for themselves.

The school system, however, has recovered nearly $5 million.

In January, Barnes accepted responsibility for the actions of its employees -- former Regional Manager Bobby Browder and Capps, a former manager at the company's Raleigh store. The supplier was ordered to pay back $3 million to the school system.

Suspects, including former Transportation Director Vern Hatley and former Budget Analyst Carol Finch, have also turned over about $1.75 million to the school system.

In February, Hatley was sentenced to seven to 10 years in prison for his role in the scheme after a judge denied Hatley's request to withdraw his October guilty plea.

Browder, Capps, Finch and two other former transportation employees -- Angela Malloy-Sanders and Pam Stewart -- have yet to be sentenced. Their sentencing, which is expected to take place after Estes' trial, hinges on their cooperation with investigators.


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