Former Wake County Register of Deeds Laura Riddick will serve no less than five years in prison after pleading guilty to embezzling nearly $1 million in taxpayer money.
Riddick pleaded guilty to six counts of felony embezzlement on Friday, with her lawyer telling the court a mental condition that causes her to hoard money led her to take money from the Register of Deeds office and deposit it in private bank accounts over a period of seven years.
Riddick’s voice wavered as she apologized to her fellow elected officials, the people of Wake County and her friends and family, whom she said “knew nothing of my crime” until after the fact. “I will find ways in prison and after my eventual release to make further amends and to contribute positively again to our community,” she said.
Riddick, a Republican elected in 1996, was indicted for embezzling $926,615 by a grand jury in December 2017 after a probe revealed $2.3 million in cash missing from the department.
“The defendant regularly told her employees not to be concerned about it and that it must have been a result of computing errors,” said Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman. The investigation showed the office failed to keep accurate records and three other employees were also charged with embezzlement. County financial audits failed to uncover the missing money at the time.
Wake County Judge Paul Ridgeway sentenced Riddick to a minimum of sixty months and a maximum of eighty-four months in prison and ordered her to pay back the $926,615 she embezzled as restitution. Riddick’s lawyer said she would make the payment today, citing the fact that she has the money as evidence of the mental condition described in a psychological evaluation submitted to the court.
Riddick experienced “serious money issues” as a child, suffered sexual abuse and now has a heart condition, her lawyer told the court, adding that Riddick wasn’t trying to make excuses, rather offer an explanation owed to the public.
“All of these things worked together to create this compulsion Dr. Cooper talked about and what it led Laura to do is to steal money from the Register of Deeds and deposit it in the bank,” he said. “This was her secret … She knew it was wrong but she still did it.”
Riddick resigned from office in March the day the investigation into the missing funds was announced. At the time, officials said Riddick’s retirement was health-related.
Freeman said dozens of witnesses were interviewed and thousands of records reviewed — adding up to a case file “in excess of fifteen thousand pages.” Bank records from August 2010 to January 2017 showed Riddick making more than six hundred deposits ranging from a few hundred to a thousand dollars. During that time, Riddick paid for vacations, spa treatments, landscaping, clothes, mortgage payments and credit card bills, Freeman said.
Before Riddick was taken into custody, Ridgeway weighed in on the situation, saying he rarely comments on cases but was compelled to do so because of Riddick’s role as a public official and the “outrageous” nature of the crimes.
“The most egregious aspect of the crimes is the destruction of public trust through dishonesty, deceit and abuse of public office,” he said before handing down the sentence. “… If there is but one positive thing we can take away from this sort of offense, it is my hope that as we conclude this matter all of us can reflect upon the fragility of public trust in governmental institutions and that all of us charged with the responsibility of acting on behalf of citizens will redouble our efforts to do our jobs with integrity and in an open and honest fashion worthy of public confidence.”