Midtown Raleigh News

Former assistant city manager investigated in probe of Raleigh technology incubator

Police are reviewing bank records belonging to a former Raleigh assistant city manager as part of a yearlong investigation of the city-funded Raleigh Business and Technology Center.

On Tuesday, detectives served a search warrant on Lawrence Wray’s accounts at Mechanics & Farmers Bank. According to the warrant, Wray is suspected of depositing $25,000 in loans intended for the business incubator into his personal account.

The loans were then repaid by the Raleigh Business and Technology Center, where Wray served as board chairman, the warrant said.

Police spokesman Laura Hourigan said Tuesday that no charges have been filed in the investigation, which is still in progress.

Reached Tuesday, Wray said he doesn’t recall depositing loans to his personal account. He says police took his records relating to the center and he can no longer reference them.

“If anything like that happened, it was because it was Bob (Robinson, center director) who asked me to do it,” Wray said, adding that funds ultimately went to the center.

Raleigh police have been investigating possible fraud at the Southeast Raleigh incubator since June 2013, when a city auditor found unexplained cashier’s checks and payments to tenants, as well as $65,000 in missing cash, among other evidence of mismanagement.

Raleigh leaders immediately pulled funding from the nonprofit and evicted it from its city-owned building on South Wilmington Street. It’s been largely vacant while the city plans a new program to help small businesses.

According to the search warrant, investigators initially focused on Robinson, who resigned as director of the center shortly before the audit was released. The warrant says Robinson was accused of “writing checks out of the RBTC account to himself.”

Robinson has told police he’s innocent and said Wray “committed improprieties while serving as a board member,” the warrant said.

Robinson told investigators that Wray took out two loans for the cash-strapped incubator for “taxes and to defray overhead expenses.” Police determined that the first loan – for $40,000 – was deposited in the center’s accounts in 2009 and then repaid.

But the second loan – $25,000 – was wired to a bank account with the same routing number as Wray’s personal account, the warrant states. That finding prompted police to obtain the search warrant for Wray’s bank records.

Until he retired in 2011, Wray oversaw Raleigh’s relationship with the incubator, which was receiving $162,000 annually from city economic development funds.

Auditors discovered that Wray had family members working for the incubator on multiple occasions. His former wife, Shelia Noble Wray, was one of two incubator employees in 2004, although he said he wasn’t responsible for the hire.

His singing sisters were paid $200 to perform at the incubator’s awards banquet in 2012. His brother, Donald, got $600 to trim the incubator’s trees in November and December 2012. And his son, Lawrence Wray III, received $150 for landscaping work, according to audit records.

After Raleigh severed ties with the incubator, Wray remained in charge of the nonprofit and unsuccessfully fought the eviction in court. He asked city leaders to give the organization a second chance, but they weren’t swayed.