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Man Found Guilty Of Defrauding Wake Schools

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RALEIGH, N.C. — A man was found guilty late Friday afternoon of helping his girlfriend and others steal about $4 million from Wake County Schools.

Harold Estes, 61, was convicted on 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.

Estes, who showed no emotion as the verdicts were read, was sentenced to between 11 and 15 years in prison and ordered to pay $500,000 in restitution. His lawyer said he would appeal the verdict.

"He had absolutely nothing to do with the fraud that was perpetrated on the schools," defense attorney David Long said.

But jurors and prosecutors disagreed.

"We feel very confident that we made the right decision," juror Ana Twine said.

"The jury saw the evidence, and the evidence was overwhelming and the jury made the right decision," Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby said.

Prosecutors said Estes was part of a scheme involving fake orders to Barnes Motor & Parts, a Wilson-based automotive-parts supplier, and kickbacks to managers of the school district's transportation department.

The defense rested its case Friday without putting any witnesses on the stand or offering any evidence.

"He wasn't aware Barnes benefited from money taken from the Wake County Public School System. There is no evidence -- zero -- to tie him to crimes he's been indicted of committing," Long said in his closing argument.

Estes, one of seven people charged in connection with the scheme, has since married Connie Capps, a former manager at Barnes' Raleigh office. She pleaded guilty in October to her involvement in the case.

Although Estes didn't work at Barnes or the school district, Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby said he helped launder the stolen money by buying expensive goods for the other defendants.

"It defies reason and logic for Harold Estes to think that $535,000 was his," Willoughby said in his closing argument. "Harold Estes fed their appetite."

Five other people -- four former school district employees and another former Barnes employee -- also have pleaded guilty.

Capps and four others are expected to be sentenced soon now that Estes' trial is over. They face sentences that could range from up to 60 days in jail to 40 years in prison.

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

The district is trying to recover the stolen money. Barnes Motor & Parts was fined $1.3 million, and the rest will have be come from the seven people convicted in the case.

"It was all our money -- it was our school children's money -- and I just felt that we needed to take a strong stand in that sort of case," Willoughby said.


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