Local News

WRAL Tracks Down Suspect In Wake County Fraud Scheme

Posted May 3, 2005 8:46 a.m. EDT
Updated November 18, 2006 3:10 p.m. EST

— The Wake County district attorney calls it the largest abuse of public funds he has ever handled while in office.

Investigators are looking into a sophisticated fraud scheme involving taxpayer money.

Former employees from the Wake County Public Schools Transportation Department and one supplier are the focus.

As the investigation unfolds, most have handed over money and merchandise to attorneys for Wake Schools and the supplier.

The attorney for the school system, Jonathan Blumberg, says one of the suspected participants has not. Blumberg says her evasiveness and wrongdoing will not stand.

Looking through stacks of invoices and piles of potential evidence, one former employee's name appears in more places than any other caught up in the fraud investigation of Wake School's Transportation Department. That name is Carol Finch.

She is the only former employee who has not returned money or merchandise.

Blumberg says she has not responded to any phone calls or letters.

Every time WRAL visited her Johnston County home, no one appeared to be there.

Then, WRAL's Kelcey Carlson received a tip about her staying in a vacation home. WRAL found Finch in Washington, N.C.

She was not only unwilling to answer questions, she would not even tell WRAL who she was.

Several people who know Finch confirm this is in fact her. WRAL approached Finch after using a hidden camera to photograph her at a campground yard sale.

Sources say this is where she spends most of her time.

Finch is a person of considerable interest in the fraud investigation. She was in charge of the budget and audits at the Transportation Department. Many deliveries came to her and only her.

Finch and four other former transportation employees, including department head Vern Hatley, all resigned last fall amid the investigation.

School officials believe the team worked with two managers from Barnes Motor & Parts to siphon public money.

Attorneys for both Barnes and the school system tell WRAL they used fake part orders to disguise their scheme. Those attorneys say the money was spent on personal items.

WRAL has obtained purchase orders for appliances and home entertainment systems for Finch's Johnston County home. They were billed to Barnes Motor and Parts.

In Washington, a local businessman tells WRAL that Finch paid thousands of dollars for services with checks from Barnes as well.

Investigators have a lot of money questions for Finch. They wonder how she had enough money to keep up two homes, just five years after filing for bankruptcy.

The school system's attorney also questions why Finch is the only one not to return anything. He says she's in debt to the school system.

Six others have turned over furniture, big screen TVs, jet skis, golf carts and even resort homes in places such as Myrtle Beach and even the campground where WRAL found Carol Finch. Attorneys for the school system and Barnes are working together to recover property.

Just because employees turn over items, they are not immune to criminal charges. The district attorney won't say who faces charges, but he will say criminal charges are expected this summer.

The district attorney also says there are different levels of involvement among the participants, and the list of suspects could grow.