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Former Spring Lake finance director sentenced to four years in prison for embezzlement

Gay Tucker stole nearly $570,000 from the town over five years, the U.S. Attorney's Office said


Gay Cameron Tucker, the former finance director and account technician for the town of Spring Lake, was sentenced Wednesday to four years in prison for embezzling nearly $570,000 from the municipality, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina said.

Tucker pleaded guilty on Sept. 21 to one count each of embezzlement from a local government receiving federal funds and aggravated identity theft.

Tucker wrote checks from Spring Lake’s bank accounts for her personal use, forging the signatures of other town officials, including the mayor and town manager, between 2016 and 2021, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a release.

“These forged checks were made payable to herself, used to cover her personal expenses and deposited into bank accounts she controlled,” the release stated. “By abusing her position of trust, Tucker stole $567,070 from the town over this five-year period.”

“Public corruption at any level is a crime that affects all of us and undermines our public institutions,’’ U.S. Attorney Michael Easley states in the release. “This defendant abused her position of trust by using public funds intended for her local community to pay her own personal expenses. Our office will continue to partner with law enforcement to investigate and prosecute allegations of public corruption.”

Spring Lake Mayor Kia Anthony and Alderman Marvin Lackman attended the sentencing hearing in Elizabeth City.

“I do think it was milder than I would have wanted for someone who had committed such an egregious offense against the town,’’ Anthony said of the sentence. “This is more than her embezzling (from) the town. She damaged the reputation of the town; she damaged the trust that citizens have in their government. Overall, it was just really a hard hit that was bigger than the finances to only receive a four-year sentence. Our employees were furloughed. She was part of our fire chief getting fired. There are a lot of details that the public does not know."

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A 56-page audit released by State Auditor Beth Wood in March provided an overview of Tucker’s actions.

The audit does not name the former accounting technician, but CityView learned that Tucker served in that capacity from July 2014 through March 2020, and again from April 2021 until her termination in July 2021. Tucker also served as the interim finance director from March 2020 to September 2020 and as the finance director from September 2020 to April 2021.

Tucker wrote 32 checks for a total of more than $16,000 payable to her personal checking account at Bragg Mutual Federal Credit Union, according to the audit.

Twenty-seven checks — totaling more than $151,000 — were made payable to a technician, later identified as Tucker, with 24 checks deposited into her personal account and one deposited into her husband’s account at the credit union, the audit states.

Another 13 checks — totaling more than $113,000 — were made payable to Heritage Place Senior Living and used to pay her husband’s monthly rent, according to the audit.

"I'm glad that part is over. Honestly, I feel like it should have been more," Spring Lake Alderwoman Sona Cooper said of Tucker's sentence. "This was a lot to go through, but I'm glad that part is over."

Anthony also said she would have liked to see a more lengthy sentence.

"The sentence was not harsh enough,’’ Anthony said. “If there was a chance of her to get more time, I would be for that. It's going to take years. She's going to be out of prison before we stabilize. I looked her in the face today (in the courtroom) because I wanted to see if there was any remorse. I didn't see it. I didn't see any remorse."

Lackman and Anthony had the opportunity to address the court.

“I am so glad I went to this today and that we were able to speak,’’ Lackman said. “Gay Tucker looked frail but none of us bought her sob story. She said she did not realize that it added up to $500,000. I was very glad that the judge allowed me to speak on behalf of the 12,000 residents of Spring Lake so that they could be heard today. The judge heard the residents of Spring Lake.“

The Raleigh News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer have reported that the town hired Tucker without conducting interviews or looking at a resume, although her background includes multiple bankruptcies, tax liens, unpaid credit bills and failed businesses.

During the course of the government’s investigation into Tucker, Spring Lake hired a financial consultant to assist with an audit of the town’s finances for 2019 and 2020 and also discovered financial irregulates, the U.S. attorney said in the release.

In March 2021, she was removed from her position as finance director.

U.S. District Judge Terrence W. Boyle presided over the sentencing.

Shortly after Tucker left the town's employment, the Local Government Commission announced it would take control of Spring Lake's finances.

“It’s unfortunate she will only serve four years for what she has done,’’ Alderman Raul Palacios said. “She stole from Spring Lake for five years, took 10 times her salary but will only be serving four years for her crimes and no restitution?

“This was a slam-dunk case where the N.C. State Auditor’s Office provided all the evidence that she stole a half million dollars.

“This is not a good day for our town, and this is not a good day for Gay Tucker.’’

Jami McLaughlin contributed to this report.

Michael Futch covers Fayetteville and education for CityView. He can be reached at mfutch@cityviewnc.com.

Spring Lake, Gay Tucker, embezzlement