Three former workers at the troubled Wake County Register of Deeds office pleaded guilty to embezzlement charges Friday, accepting jail and prison time in the scandal that saw $2.3 million in public money disappear.
All three were convicted for taking far less than former Register of Deeds Laura Riddick, who repaid $926,000 and received a minimum five-year prison sentence in August. District Attorney Lorrin Freeman said of the $2.3 million missing, roughly all has been recovered either from the county’s insurance or the three defendants.
“All will be spending tonight in a jail cell or a prison cell,” Freeman said. “I think this is a good result for the people of Wake County.”
The heaviest prison time went to Murray Parker, whom Freeman described as Riddick’s “right-hand person.” A military veteran with decades of experience in the office, he received a 12- to 24-month sentence for embezzling $74,067, all of which he repaid.
Freeman described him making bank deposits of several hundred dollars every few weeks, and among all the register of deeds employees, he was the only one who knew of Riddick’s involvement.
As he left court to begin his prison sentence, Parker apologized to the people of Wake County and his family.
“I couldn’t be any more despondent than I am now,” he said.
Veronica Gearon, a supervisor in the register of deeds office, received eight to 12 months in prison for her plea. She must pay $35,839 in the next 30 days, funds her attorney said she would take from her 401(k) account. Gearon must serve a lengthy probation term and pay the remainder of the $80,950 she was charged with taking.
She had no comment in court Friday.
The lightest sentence went to Troy Ellis, who began working for the register of deeds in 2009. He will serve 45 days in jail and pay $21,660 — less than half of the amount he was charged with taking.
Unlike the other defendants, Freeman said, Ellis did not deposit stolen cash in his bank account, and the figure he must repay is the amount that could be proven if his case went to trial. Ellis spent register of deeds money on jewelry and Best Buy items, she said.
Ellis’ case gave the clearest picture of the lax oversight at the county office, Freeman said. Ellis was responsible for collecting cash from drawers where marriage licenses were paid for, and he would take it to Riddick’s office down an “isolated corridor,” Freeman said.
During his employment, he noticed that money sometimes got left overnight in those drawers. “That’s when it occurred to him that nobody was paying attention,” Freeman said.
Once a State Bureau of Investigation probe was launched, Ellis came forward within a day. He admitted during an investigation to taking $60 to $300 at a time. At the time, Freeman said, he believed he was the only employee taking money and wanted to spare the rest of the office any ordeal.
“I would like to apologize to Wake County for what I’ve done,” Ellis said.
He will also serve a probation term.
As she accepted their pleas, Superior Court Judge Becky Holt said, “I cannot understand how $60 at a time, how that would be worth sitting here in court, facing a felony.”
Josh Shaffer: 919-829-4818, @joshshaffer08