Local News

Fired Wake employee could face criminal charges

Posted June 27, 2008 5:35 p.m. EDT
Updated July 7, 2008 9:16 p.m. EDT

— A Wake County administrator who was fired after an internal review showed questionable travel expenses could face criminal charges.

Craig P. Wittig was fired June 3 as recycling program manager for the county's Solid Waste Management Division after senior county officials found out he had taken at least 46 trips since he was hired in February 2006.

The trips included whale-watching off the coast of Maine, four ventures to Disney World and a trip to a Las Vegas hotel. County records show he sometimes traveled with his family and often with other county employees.

Wittig told WRAL that the trips were efforts to research environmental programs in other parts of the country so that Wake County could develop a state-of-the-art recycling program. His supervisors approved all of the trips in advance, he said.

County officials are meeting with prosecutors to determine whether criminal charges are warranted in the case.

North Carolina Central University law professor Irving Joyner said the fact that Wittig's supervisors approved the travel expenses could keep Wittig out of court.

"The lack of administrative wisdom does not create criminal conduct," Joyner said.

Wittig's boss, Solid Waste Management Director James S. Reynolds, was demoted last month to the position of solid waste facilities manager.

County Manager David Cooke said he plans to re-evaluate who gets county-issued credit cards.

The county has issued charge cards to 535 of its more than 3,800 employees. In the past 11 months, more than $5.7 million was charged to those cards.

Seven employees in the Solid Waste Management Division, including Wittig, charged $165,165 to credit cards issued by Wake County – they are paid for with public money – between April 2006 and this week, according to county records.

Cooke said he would decide next week whether anyone else would face disciplinary action in the case. He also plans to meet with an independent auditor on Monday.

"I'm going to personally review all the documentation," he said. "We do want to prove to the public that this is an isolated incident. It is not tolerated."

All other Wake County departments have been instructed to review travel expenses for possible questionable spending, he said.

Joe Bryan, who chairs the county Board of Commissioners, said the case is especially sensitive to residents because of Wake County's recent decision to raise taxes.

"This is a critical issue," Bryan said. "This is going to be resolved. We're going to go after this and find the activities entirely unacceptable."