The money and the mystery are growing, and Wake County residents are awaiting the outcome of a State Bureau of Investigation probe of the Wake County Register of Deeds Office.
The questions around how $2.3 million in cash went missing from that office over a nine-year period are exploding, seemingly by the day.
The office was run for 20 years by the elected register, Laura Riddick, a Republican who was popular with voters and a hardworking, amicable official who served until retiring because of a heart condition. Riddick seemed to be well-liked by those who worked for her and by county officials both Democratic and Republican.
The initial reports of money missing, which coincided with Riddick’s resignation, were in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, after one person in the office acknowledged taking $50,000 in 2016. He resigned and is cooperating with investigators, according to his letter of dismissal.
The entire system of accounting for cash seemed ripe for mistakes at best and mishandling at worst. Riddick was routinely the first person to make a daily count of cash coming through the office and would make a written record of currency. Earlier this year, other employees at a high level became concerned when daily cash deposits were lower than expected, and so they, over an eight-day period, counted the cash before taking the money to Riddick. They found that after the money left Riddick’s office, cash was missing in mostly $20 and $100 bills.
The office handles so much cash because it handles marriage licenses, which have to be paid for in cash.
Some rules have been changed, but some bad customs were continued for years.
Now, more is known about how much money and it’s shocking. The county puts the total at $2.3 million in a claim filed with its insurance company. That claim shows cash went missing from 2008 onward, and the yearly totals ranged from $200,000 in 2009 to $326,000 in 2012.
The News & Observer reported that Riddick’s office violated basic rules for handling cash, for example, that an employee would collect cash from tellers, most of which hadn’t been counted, and deliver it to Riddick.
The public needs to see the outcome of the ongoing investigation as soon as possible. Wake District Attorney Lorrin Freeman is actively involved and will do a careful job. County Manager Jim Hartmann decided to retire, after being criticized by some county commissioners for his dealing with this situation, with critics saying he should have moved more quickly to change policies regarding the handling of cash. Hartmann insists he just decided it was time to retire.
The problem is that with the handling of cash, it’s hard to know what really happened until an investigation is complete. Mistakes? Misplacing money? Something more calculated? No one knows at this point, except perhaps investigators.
But the story isn’t going away. The latest figure, that $2.3 million, has again brought this story to the fore, understandably so. We must hope for a sooner-rather-than-later conclusion to this investigation.