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Garden Store Returns Gifts Received From Wake Schools Fraud Suspect

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RALEIGH, N.C. — A Johnston County business has found itself on the fringe of a fraud investigation involving the Wake County Public School System.

WRAL has learned that a company is now returning gifts that investigators think were purchased with taxpayer dollars.

The Wake County School Board's attorney, Jonathan Blumberg, is not only after Carol Finch for what he believes she owes, he is seeking out people who received gifts from her as well.

The owners of DeWayne's Home & Garden Showplace in Selma fall into that category.

DeWayne and Tina Lee turned over a four-wheeler, a golf cart and $6,000 cash. They tell investigators that they were gifts from Finch and that the money was paid to replace gift cards to various stores that she apparently gave them.

Finch, who worked for the school system's transportation department, is suspected of diverting school dollars by submitting orders for fake parts to Barnes Motor & Parts. Former Barnes employees and high-ranking school transportation employees are suspected of benefiting from the scheme.

Kristi Haverdink remembers the day Finch moved into her Johnston County neighborhood.

"There was a fountain, a pink flamingo and lots of decorations," Harverdink said about Finch's yard.

The lawn ornaments are now gone and the house is for sale, but Haverdink remembers DeWayne's did the landscaping and many of the deliveries.

"It got to be the neighborhood joke," she said. "There were trucks pulling up every week with toys for her yard."

According to a search warrant of Finch's vacation home, the owners of the home and garden store say Finch spent in excess of $70,000 at the business in 2003 and 2004.

In a letter from their attorney, DeWayne and Tina Lee said they had no idea Finch's money might have been stolen. They said she presented herself as a wealthy, single woman.

Finch, herself, recently turned over two cars, two golf carts, a boat and her vacation home in Washington, N.C.

So far, the school system has recovered $1.5 million -- most of which was a payment from Barnes Motor & Parts. The parts company said it was a payment for future orders. Carol Finch has been the only person criminally charged.


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