Missing attorney in ticket-fixing case found in Wilmington
Posted July 24, 2009 5:14 a.m. EDT
Updated July 24, 2009 11:20 a.m. EDT
Smithfield, N.C. — The search is over for a missing Johnston County defense attorney. Authorities found Chad Lee, 32, at a hotel in Wilmington Friday morning.
Lee, of 3751 U.S. Highway 301 South in Smithfield, was indicted in March on charges that he altered court records and knowingly used illegal dismissal forms to get drunken driving and other traffic cases dropped.
Lee's father and brother told Johnston County Sheriff Steve Bizzell Tuesday they had not seen him since June 25.
Bizzell and Chief Deputy Bengie Gaddis went to Wilmington Thursday night to drive by hotels and see if they could find him. Lee attended the University of North Carolina-Wilmington and was known to frequently visit coastal areas like Wilmington, Morehead City and Myrtle Beach, S.C., authorities said.
At about 1:15 a.m. Friday, Bizzell and Gaddis spotted Lee's truck in the parking lot of a hotel on Market Street near Interstate 40. They then saw him standing outside getting some fresh air.
Lee told them he needed to get away for awhile, Bizzell said.
The sheriff gave him a ride back home, and Gaddis drove his truck. He was reunited with his father and brother at about 3 a.m.
Lee is one of six people indicted in the ticket-fixing scheme.
A source told WRAL News that Cyndi Jaeger, a former Johnston County assistant district attorney, gave at least one blank dismissal form to a defense attorney. A total of 37 dismissed cases are in question. The majority of the defendants who saw their cases dismissed were clients of Lee, a former Johnston County prosecutor.
The indictments show that 70 dismissal forms with Jaeger's signature were filed after she left her job in September 2007. Jaeger is charged with 81 misdemeanor counts of failure to perform duty of office.
Former deputy court clerk Portia Snead and defense lawyers Lee Hatch, Vann Sauls and Jack McLamb face the same charges as Lee.
District Attorney Susan Doyle asked the State Bureau of Investigation to look into the high rate of dismissed drunken-driving cases in the county after a tracking system found several discrepancies in cases that were scheduled for trial but had been dismissed months earlier, she said.
A WRAL News investigation found that 46 percent of the DWI charges filed in Johnston County in 2006 were dismissed, compared with 21 percent statewide and 20 percent in neighboring Wake County.