Ex-director of DuBois facing allegations

Staff WriterJuly 19, 2006 

Bettie Murchison, the former director of the DuBois Center in Wake Forest, was arrested Tuesday on charges that she stole money and property from the community center.

According to arrest warrants, Murchison, 53, is charged with embezzling more than $169,000 from the DuBois Center. She is also accused of trading in a 2004 white Ford Econoline van that belonged to the DuBois Center for her own use.

The National Alumni Association of DuBois High School oversees the operations of the center, which serves low-income adults and children in the Wake Forest area with programs such as after-school tutoring and GED preparation.

Alumni association president Lawrence Perry filed a complaint with the police department in April against Murchison.

In February, Murchison, who was in charge of the center's programs for seven years, resigned her position. She cited differences between her and the board over the center's mission.

Later that month, Murchison announced plans to start her own corporation, the W.E.B. DuBois Community Development corporation, which offers youth mentoring programs and works with residents to find affordable housing.

Lt. Trent Coleman said the Wake Forest Police Department spent four months investigating the complaint. They say that Murchison withdrew $169,399.38 from the DuBois Center's account and deposited the money into an account for her new corporation. According to police, she also traded in a van registered to the DuBois Center for another van for her new corporation.

Murchison was formally charged with embezzlement and felony conversion of property.

Coleman would not comment on whether any additional charges would be filed. He said the investigation was ongoing.

Coleman said Murchison was notified of the warrants and turned herself in. "She has been very cooperative," Coleman said. Murchison does not have a felony criminal background.

Murchison was held at the Wake County Public Safety Center in Raleigh under a $200,000 bond. She was released late Tuesday afternoon.

Murchison could not be reached comment.

The DuBois Center operated more than a dozen social programs serving the mostly low-income area in Wake Forest. The programs were supported through grants and public support.

According to tax documents for the alumni association, the center received $199,502 in public support and $1.3 million in grants from September 2004 through August 2005.

In the past, grant funds have been used to support the DuBois Center's Hope Builder's Program, which works with young adults to help them earn their GEDs, and a summer camp for troubled youth in Butner.

More than $1 million was allotted for salaries and wages, the documents state.

The center operated quietly until last year when the Wake County Board of Education decided to reassign about 400 students to a modular elementary school next to the center. Many parents objected to the center's location, saying it was unsafe. During the controversy, Murchison often spoke out at public meetings defending the center.

After Murchison resigned, more than 100 employees of the DuBois Center followed her to the new center. Many left out of of loyalty and others to keep their jobs because some programs they worked for were no longer operating at the DuBois Center.

News of the charges shocked employees and former alumni association board members.

"I just can't believe it," former board member Leonard Dunn said. Dunn resigned from the board for health reasons in February, but served on the board for six years during Murchison's leadership.

Dunn said financial records that Murchison presented to the board did not provide any evidence that funds were mishandled. "She worked so hard, and the programs always continued," he said.

John Pelosi, a longtime Wake Forest resident who worked with Murchison to raise money for her new corporation, was also stunned.

"I don't believe she would do anything like that. And I feel very strongly about that," Pelosi said.

(News researcher Lamara Williams Hackett contributed to this report.)

Staff writer Kinea White Epps can be reached at 836-4952 or kwhite@newsobserver.com.

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