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Wake Schools Fraud Defendant Bragged, Witness Says

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The state rested Thursday afternoon in the trial of a man accused in a multimillion-dollar fraud case involving the Wake County Public School System.

One after another, salespeople from automotive, camper, golf cart and watercraft dealerships testified that Harold Estes bought luxury items. Estes' friends also testified that they were aware of his spending habits.

"Harold was always bragging what he had, how much he had -- this and that," said Chris Matthews. "I wanted him to adopt me, so, I called him 'Daddy Harold.'"

Estes is one of seven people charged in connection with the scheme in which at least $4 million in public money was siphoned from the school system's Transportation Department budget in 2003 and 2004. The scheme involved fake orders to Wilson-based automotive-parts supplier Barnes Motor & Parts.

One person who was not called to testify, however, was Estes' wife, Connie Capps. Wake County District Attorney C. Colin Willoughby Jr. said he did not think that Capps' testimony would help the state's case against Estes, who is accused of taking more than $500,000 from the school system.

Capps and Estes had been dating at the time of the alleged criminal activity, but the two were married earlier this year. She was a manager at Barnes' Raleigh office and pleaded guilty in October to her involvement in the case. Her sentencing is contingent on her cooperation with investigators.

Estes' attorney has said his client was just an outsider, but witnesses testified on Wednesday that Estes, in fact, controlled at least part of the money that he spent on high-priced luxury items.

During trial proceedings on Thursday, Gil Whitford, an agent with the State Bureau of Investigation, showed the jury numerous checks from Estes' financial accounts allegedly spent on merchandise.

The defense is expected to present its case on Friday. Estes' attorney said it will be short and that closing arguments could begin by Friday afternoon.

Besides Capps, five other people -- four former transportation department employees and another former Barnes employee -- have pleaded guilty. Four are expected to be sentenced after Estes' trial. They face sentences that could range from up to 60 days in jail to 40 years in prison.

The fifth person, former transportation head Vern Hatley, is already serving seven to 10 years in prison for his role in the case.


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