(Raleigh, N.C.) – State Treasurer Dale R. Folwell said the arrest and indictment of the former Spring Lake finance director on charges of misappropriating more than a half-million dollars from the town highlights the need for legislative action to help prevent future abuses in state and local government.
“It’s sad relief. 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,” Treasurer Folwell said in response to an announcement by the U.S. Department of Justice late Friday that Gay Cameron Tucker of Fayetteville embezzled the money through fraudulent checks containing forged signatures of the mayor and town manager.
According to a news release issued by U.S. Attorney Michael Easley, Tucker is charged with one count of embezzlement from a local government receiving federal funds, four counts of bank fraud, and two counts of aggravated identity theft. The maximum punishment for embezzlement is 10 years in prison. The maximum punishment for bank fraud is 30 years in prison. The maximum punishment for aggravated identity theft is not less than, nor more than 2 years in prison consecutive to any other sentence imposed.
Easley, who is the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina, said the Federal Bureau of Investigation is handling the investigation, and Assistant U.S. Attorney William M. Gilmore is prosecuting the case.
Weak financial controls make local governments vulnerable to abuse, Treasurer Folwell said, and 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. 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,” Treasurer Folwell said.
The Local Government Commission has been called in twice to address major discrepancies in Spring Lake. State audits in 2016 and 2022 revealed financial mismanagement. The Local Government Commission assumed control of the town’s finances last October due to a variety of fiscal and governance problems.
“It’s further troubling to me that this person was actually brought in to address the issues that had occurred the first time. State and all local governments have got to do a better job on reference checks,” Treasurer Folwell said. “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 employment has to be unacceptable going forward.”
Senate Bill 265 contains reforms recommended by Treasurer Folwell to help stamp out financial abuse.
“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. 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,” Treasurer Folwell said. “The fact is that the right types of audits could have caught these types of violations hundreds of thousands of dollars ago.”
“We don’t ask for any legislation we don’t need, and we sincerely hope when we ask for it we never have to use it. We hope that we would never have to do a sales tax recapture,” Treasurer Folwell said.