Court Affidavit Reveals Details In Wake School System Fraud Case
Posted July 19, 2005 7:54 a.m. EDT
Updated November 18, 2006 3:19 p.m. EST
RALEIGH, N.C. — A former Wake County Public Schools System employee made her first appearance in court Tuesday afternoon.
Carol Finch is the first person charged in a plot that investigators say skimmed money from the Wake school system.
Investigators said Finch needed to be arrested immediately because she was still spending money taken last year from the Wake County Public Schools System.
"We felt like this action was necessary to protect the public and to protect the school system," said Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby. He would not elaborate.
A search warrant of Finch's vacation home in the town of Washington, N.C., however, indicates she had gift cards left to spend, including one for Best Buy in the amount of $10,000, as well as a gift certificate for Carolina Pottery that was nearly $2,000.
Surveillance cameras also spotted Finch redeeming gift cards in question at Target stores in May and June.
Investigators believe gift cards were a big part of a multi-million dollar fraud scheme involving school transportation employees and workers from a parts supplier.
The affidavit says two fired managers from Barnes Motor & Parts accused school transportation managers of calling the shots, specifically Finch, a budget manager and transportation director Vern Hatley.
The Barnes managers said fake invoices were sent to the school system and that the money was diverted for personal purchases over a two-year period.
Six people caught up in the case have turned over items such as vehicles, vacation homes, furniture, jet skis and golf carts.
The Barnes managers said up to $600,000 in gift cards to stores such as Belk, Target, Lowe's and Wal-Mart were purchased and divided among employees on both sides.
"I mean they spent money like drunken sailors on liberty having a big time," Willoughby said.
Willoughby said some may have benefited more than others and Finch has emerged as a potential ringleader.
The owners of a home and garden company told the State Bureau of Investigation that Finch spent $70,000 with the company and always carried gift cards.
After suspicions of the fraud surfaced last year, the two Barnes managers were fired. Six school transportation employees, in all, have lost their jobs including Finch's former boyfriend Michael Wade.
Wade told WRAL that he did not know where Finch got her money for elaborate purchases.
According to the affidavit, Finch has not turned over a dime, but did tell investigators last year that she received a Chevrolet Tahoe and golf carts. SBI agents say they saw what appeared to be those items outside her Beaufort County home when they made the arrest.
Investigators said Hatley denied involvement in the scheme, but admitted to receiving gifts from Barnes and $11,000 in gift cards from Finch.
Willoughby does not think anyone above Hatley knew about the fraud. He added that cooperating does not make suspects immune to criminal charges.
If convicted, Finch faces up to seven years in prison, but that could go higher if she faces additional charges.