This post appears here courtesy of the Carolina Journal
. The author of this post is CJ Staff
The indictment of a former Spring Lake town official on embezzlement and fraud charges highlights the need for legislative action. That's the reaction from state Treasurer Dale Folwell, who urged lawmakers "to help prevent future abuses in state and local government."
Former Spring Lake finance director Gay Cameron Tucker is accused of embezzling more than $500,000 from the town, according to a news release Friday from the U.S. attorney's office. Tucker "carried out the embezzlement through fraudulent checks containing forged signatures of the mayor and town manager,"
according to the indictment.
"It's sad relief,"
Folwell said in his own news release. "Sad that this has happened to the taxpayers of Spring Lake now for the second time and relief that finally law enforcement is taking these matters seriously,"
One count of embezzlement, four counts of bank fraud, and two counts of aggravated identity theft expose Tucker to a total maximum criminal penalty of more than 100 years in prison. Federal sentencing rules would lead to a shorter prison sentence if she's found guilty.
Folwell's news release raises concerns about "weak financial controls"
that make local governments "vulnerable to abuse."
The treasurer argues "nothing angers taxpayers more than knowing someone who abused the public trust for financial gain is able to receive a pension for the time they were committing criminal acts."
"This has always been a concern of mine, not only as the state treasurer and chairman of the Local Government Commission, but chairman of the state retirement board,"
Folwell said. "Until someone gets convicted of a crime of this nature, we can't take their pension away from them, and this indictment is the first step toward doing that."
The Local Government Commission has been called in twice to address "major discrepancies"
in Spring Lake, according to Folwell's release. State audits in 2016 and 2022 "revealed financial mismanagement."
LGC took control of town finances last October.
"It's further troubling to me that this person was actually brought in to address the issues that had occurred the first time,"
Folwell said. "State and all local governments have got to do a better job on reference checks. Simply kicking the can down the road where bad actors can operate in other parts of the state without fear of anybody knowing what they may have done at their previous place of unemployment has to be unacceptable going forward."
The Spring Lake indictment prompts Folwell to tout provisions in Senate Bill 265.
"One provision in there is that after a certain period of time, if audits are not turned in on a timely basis as required, that the city or county's sales tax refund can be withheld,"
he said. "For the state of North Carolina to require people to do audits and then there's no consequence for failure to meet that obligation is also unacceptable. The fact is that the right types of audits could have caught these types of violations hundreds of thousands of dollars ago."
The Senate approved S.B. 265 with a 47-0 vote in May 2021. The bill has been sitting in the House Local Government Committee since March 2022.