Local News

Fugitive Chapel Hill Lawyer Arrested

Posted August 31, 2007 1:20 p.m. EDT
Updated August 31, 2007 8:17 p.m. EDT

— A Chapel Hill lawyer suspected of embezzling more than $1 million from clients was arrested Friday morning in Arizona, authorities said.

Phoenix police officers arrested John Gregory McCormick, 59, at about midnight local time (3 a.m. EDT), authorities said. He was being held without bond in Arizona, pending extradition to North Carolina.

McCormick turned over his driver's license to a Phoenix officer who asked three men sitting in a park for identification, Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall said. When the officer checked the license, he found that McCormick was wanted in North Carolina, Woodall said.

The arrest ended a 13-month international search that included checks of airline passenger lists, credit card records and other databases for a trace of the missing attorney. At one point, McCormick reportedly was seen in Central or South America.

Federal authorities had charged McCormick with unlawful flight to avoid prosecution. He also faces a charge of embezzling more than $802,000 in North Carolina and is suspected to have stolen more than $1 million.

McCormick went missing on July 13, 2006, when his car was found abandoned at an Orange County entrance to Duke Forest. At about the same time, authorities began looking into allegations that money was missing from the accounts of McCormick's clients.

"From the beginning, it was a great tragedy for him personally, his family and the legal community he served as well," said John Stewart, a Chapel Hill attorney who has known McCormick for 30 years.

The board of education for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools quickly terminated its contract with McCormick, who had represented the district for 20 years. District officials said he never had any access to school funds, however.

The North Carolina State Bar disbarred McCormick in March, ruling that he had violated ethics rules.

Stewart said he still has a hard time believing his friend stole any money.

"How do you disappear with $1 million without a trace?" he said. "I'm not so sure he took it. I feel he robbed Peter to pay Paul to take care of some of the mistakes that he and his office had made."