‘I committed a serious crime,‘ Laura Riddick, ex-Wake Register of Deeds, now headed to prison

Citing a mental condition that caused a compulsion to hoard money, Former Wake County Register of Deeds Laura Riddick pleaded guilty Friday to charges that she stole nearly $1 million from the office she managed over several years.

Riddick was hit with six felony counts of embezzlement by a public officer after investigators concluded that she skimmed over $900,000 from cash receipts that flowed into her office between 2010 and 2017.

Wearing a black suit, Riddick sat stoically in court as District Attorney Nancy Lorrin Freeman and Wake County Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway laid out the terms of the plea deal.

While addressing the judge, and her friends and family for her actions.

“I‘m very sorry to have caused you and all of us to be here today,” Riddick said to the judge, her voice breaking. “Holding an elected position of trust, I committed a serious crime for which I will always be deeply remorseful.”

Under the terms of that deal, Riddick agreed to:

  • Repay $926,615 in restitution that prosecutors said was taken from the office. That payment was made on Friday during the hearing.
  • Serve a sentence in North Carolina state prison between five years and seven years, some of that could be on the work-release program, which would allow her to leave prison on weekdays between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. to work in the community.

Documents related to the investigation show almost-daily deposits into Riddick‘s bank accounts over a period of more than seven years.

Riddick‘s debit and credit charge history shows a penchant for travel, including $1,000 trips to The Swag Country Inn in Waynesville and to Chetola Resort in Blowing Rock, a $2,600 stay at Old Edwards Inn in Highlands, and a $4,700 charge at a resort in Florida.

Three other former deeds office employees, Veronica Gearon, Murray Parker and Troy Ellis, were charged in the case. It was not immediately clear when they would be in court or if they planned to accept plea deals.

Some employees in the deeds office found irregularities in 2017 while trying to implement a new cash-handling system, prompting then-Wake County Manager Jim Hartmann to bring in county auditors to go over the books. Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman later called the State Bureau of Investigation to assist with the probe.

Riddick resigned her position around the time the SBI was called in, but Hartmann and Freeman said at the time that her departure was unrelated to the investigation and was the result of a heart condition that necessitated surgery.

County officials said the missing money was hard to spot because reports were doctored to match deposits.

During Friday‘s hearing, Freeman told the court that Riddick made bank deposits to her personal accounts “every other day or every few days.”

The district attorney also said Riddick paid her credit card bills every month in full along with monthly payments on her mortgage during the time frame in which money was taken from the office. Prosecutors said her credit card bills at the time included expenditures for lavish trips.

Before Riddick was officially sentenced, her defense lawyer, Joe Zeszotarski, tried to explain what caused his client to steal.

He said she had a heart condition and suffered abuse as a child.

Those factors underpinned a “compulsion to hoard money” even though Riddick knew it was wrong, Zeszotarski said.