- Tucker could be sentenced to up to 12 years in prison.
- The town will never recover the stolen money, Mayor Kia Anthony said.
- The State Auditor hopes this conviction will deter others from embezzling.
SPRING LAKE – Former Spring Lake Finance Director Gay Cameron Tucker pleaded guilty on Wednesday to embezzling more than $ 500,000 from the town, the office of United States Attorney Michael Easley announced.
A news release says Tucker pleaded guilty in US District Court to one count of embezzlement from a local government receiving federal funds, and one count of aggravated identity theft. She could be sentenced to up to 12 years in prison, it says.
A sentencing date was not immediately available.
Tucker, 64, of Fayetteville, wrote checks from the Town’s bank accounts for her personal use, forging the signatures of other town officials, including the mayor and town manager. These forged checks were made payable to herself, used to cover her personal expenses, and deposited into bank accounts she controlled, ”the news release says.
Tucker’s lawyer could not be reached for comment on Wednesday afternoon.
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The conviction could lead to further consequences for her. State Treasurer Dale Folwell on Wednesday said his office is seeking to make Tucker forfeit the years of government service she accrued while committing her crimes. That would reduce her pension.
Tucker’s thefts occurred from 2016 to 2021, the news release says. In that time, Tucker was an accounting technician and toward the end was promoted to finance director. She had control of the town’s bank accounts and hid her transactions by keeping them out of the town’s financial books, State Auditor Beth Wood said on Wednesday.
The thefts went unnoticed for so long because no one was checking the bank records against the town’s financial books, Wood said, and the town was not conducting routine audits.
But eventually, someone noticed something amiss, and Wood’s staff auditors stepped in.
In March, a report from Wood’s office said Tucker wrote checks to herself; that she deposited town money into her personal banking account at a credit union; and that she used more than $ 113,000 in town money to pay for her husband’s care at Heritage Place Senior Living.
Tucker’s malfeasance was one of a number of problems that the Auditor’s Office found with town officials’ handling of finances and town property. For example, records indicate the town lost track of several dozen town vehicles. Also, town employees made more than 600 credit card purchases totaling nearly $ 103,000 that lacked sufficient documentation to show whether they were for town business.
Wood’s office contacted law enforcement with the findings, and Tucker was indicted in June by a federal grand jury.
As a result of the mismanagement, Spring Lake’s finances are now under strict supervision from the North Carolina Local Government Commission. This board and agency work to keep city, town and county governments from getting into financial difficulty.
“It’s the closing of a chapter,” Spring Lake Mayor Kia Anthony said on Wednesday afternoon shortly after she learned that Tucker pleaded guilty. “It’s about time that the citizens of Spring Lake receive some closure.
“And although we can not recover the funds that were taken from us, it is good to see that justice is going to be served.”
Anthony, who was elected last year after many of the town troubles were made public, said Spring Lake is making progress in getting its finances in order. She said the town will begin interviews for a new town manager next week to replace the interim manager, and then it will hire a new finance director.
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The offices of State Auditor Wood and State Treasurer Folwell have been pressuring the Board of Aldermen to resolve Spring Lake’s problems. Wood serves on the Local Government Commission and Folwell is its chairman, and the commission staff is part of the Treasurer’s Office.
“I am sad that this has happened to this person, I am sad that the town has suffered this loss,” Wood said.
“But I am job-satisfied that my staff did a great job figuring this out and catching the right people to go through our legal system. And hopefully, it will be a deterrent to anybody else that’s thinking about or is in the process of doing this. “
Folwell has been especially critical of Spring Lake. He was glad to see the case reaching a resolution.
“What I’m satisfied mostly about, given the tragedy of this, is that it may restore confidence that people have in government,” Folwell said. The conviction was the result of joint efforts of his office, Wood’s office and the US Attorney’s Office, he said.
Senior North Carolina reporter Paul Woolverton can be reached at 910-261-4710 and [email protected]