Wake County

Lawsuit says former Wake register Laura Riddick forced out her deputy

A former deputy director of the Wake County Register of Deeds is suing his former boss and the agency on the grounds that he was wrongfully terminated as he looked into cash management in the office.

The former deputy, Darryl Black, claims in a lawsuit filed Dec. 29 that Laura Riddick, the former deeds leader recently charged with six counts of embezzlement, forced his resignation on Feb. 10, 2017, “because she did not want him to uncover embezzlement at the office.”

Riddick is one of four former deeds employees charged with embezzling money from the deeds office, which records legal documents, issues marriage licenses and certifies documents, among other duties. Investigators say $2.3 million has gone missing from the office over the last six years, and the four former employees are accused of taking more than $1.13 million of it.

Riddick, who resigned last March, is accused of embezzling more than $900,000. Troy Ellis, Veronica Gearon and Murray M. Parker are accused of embezzling a total of about $205,000.

Black, who previously worked in the state legislature and the N.C. Department of Public Safety, started his job as deputy deeds director in March 2016 and soon “noted significant discrepancies between reported work activity and the transactions underlying the comprehensive annual financial reports of the office,” he claims in the lawsuit. It says he asked Jim Pollina, the office’s IT manager, to start reviewing transaction records.

The suit filed in Wake County Superior Court claims that Black met with Anne Redd, the former administrative services coordinator, on May 3. When Black told Redd that systems for keeping track of transactions were subject to abuse and error, the lawsuit claims, “Redd abruptly ended the meeting.”

The suit claims that Black sought transaction records that would’ve proven that the deeds office was under-reporting the amount of cash it was collecting. The suit claims that Black on May 6, 2016, asked Pollina for an update on his review of transaction records, but that “Pollina informed (Black) that Riddick ordered him to not work” on it.

Black claims that Redd “and/or Riddick” told other supervisors to ignore similar requests from Black and that Riddick then took away some of his responsibilities and excluded him from meetings in which he had previously participated.

He claims that Riddick told him to limit his interaction with other organizations and to copy her on any communications outside the office.

In September 2016, Black says Riddick told him to leave the agency – citing their differences in management style – but gave him time to find another job.

Black’s suit claims that Pollina in late 2016 completed a review of the transaction reports that Black asked for back in May and met with Redd on Jan. 11, 2017, to review the cash management processes.

“Redd admitted to Pollina that the reports and the money rarely reconciled and that as a regular practice the management activity reports are adjusted downward by the use of bogus voids when the cash is less than it should be, or by the use of bogus copy fees when the cash is more than it should be,” the lawsuit states.

Neither Black nor Redd have been implicated in the investigation into missing money.

Darryl Black . 2001 file photo

Black’s lawsuit goes on to claim that Redd later informed Riddick that there was “renewed interest in the cash handling process,” and Riddick then told Redd to demand Black’s resignation effective Feb. 10. According to the lawsuit, Black wrote a resignation letter but Riddick rejected it on Jan. 17 because it started with the words, “as requested.”

Black contends that on Feb. 3 he explained to former County Manager Jim Hartmann that Riddick was forcing him to resign because he was looking into the office’s cash management. Black additionally encouraged Hartmann to have law enforcement investigate, he says.

“Hartmann told (Black) that he was aware of this already,” the suit states. As for involving law enforcement, the suit states “Hartmann told (Black) that it was being ‘handled.’ ’’

Hartmann couldn’t be reached for comment. On March 31, Hartmann announced at a press conference that the State Bureau of Investigation was launching an investigation into the deeds office.

Hartmann at the same conference announced that Riddick had submitted her resignation, citing health reasons.

“Her retirement is unrelated to this investigation,” he said at the time.

Email records provided to The News & Observer by Wake County show that, on his last day, Black drafted a letter of recommendation for himself and asked Riddick to sign it. The records show that Riddick signed a letter almost identical to what Black sent her.

The letter says Black “immersed himself in various aspects of the registry, becoming familiar with office policies and procedures. He quickly identified a need for supporting documentation and greater oversight in certain units.”

Paul A. Specht: 919-829-4870, @AndySpecht