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Judge Rejects Vern Hatley's Motion To Withdraw Guilty Plea

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RALEIGH, N.C. — A key suspect in a multimillion-dollar fraud scheme involving the Wake County Public School System and a Wilson-based automotive parts supplier will not get a trial.

Wake County Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens ruled Wednesday that the school system's former transportation director, Vern Hatley, could not withdraw his guilty plea in connection with the fraud scheme that siphoned at least $3.8 million in school money.

Hatley asked to withdraw his guilty plea in a motion filed on Jan. 12 after it appeared that his plea deal, which would have put him in prison for five to six years, would fall through.

Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby said Hatley was not cooperating with the investigation, which was required to get the lighter sentence of five to six years.

"His professed lack of knowledge and understanding wasn't consistent or believable," Willoughby said.

Barry Nakell, Hatley's attorney, told the court once again Wednesday that his client did not participate in the fake parts scheme.

"This man was working all the time while the principals in the case were out vacationing that evidence is clear," Nakell said.

Hatley admitted to accepting nearly $23,000 worth of items, including $11,000 in gift cards, from Barnes Motors & Parts. He said, however, that his former budget analyst, Carol Finch, controlled and benefited from the criminal scheme without his knowledge.

Other co-defendants said Hatley signed off on plans to run a credit line with Barnes after money was left in the budget. Investigators say that credit line was used for personal purchases, such as cars, golf carts and vacation homes.

"Mr. Hatley presided over what was the largest fraud and kickback scheme ever uncovered in Wake County government in our history," Willoughby said.

There is evidence, however, that the scheme began before Hatley was director and that his personal benefit was not nearly as great as that of others -- which Stephens said may work in his favor when he is sentenced, scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday.

The maximum sentence Hatley could receive is about 18 years.

Hatley and his attorney declined to talk to reporters after Stephens' ruling.


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