Monday, January 8, 2018

Alarm bells at the State Treasurer’s office

Alarm bells at the State Treasurer’s office

On Saturday alarm bells started going off in my head as soon as I started reading about Tanika Nichole Lucas, a former employee of the North Carolina Department of State Treasurer, who has been charged with two felonies.  According to the Raleigh News & Observer, certain financial transaction files went missing in the Financial Operations Division, and as a result Ms. Lucas was arrested at her home and charged with two felony counts of embezzling state property.[1]  Her bail was set at $100,000.  According to the N&O, Ms. Lucas earned salary of $35,000 as an administrative support specialist.

When all the facts are known the Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman may unearth some massive impropriety perpetrated by Ms. Lucas and perhaps others in the Department of State Treasurer.  However, there’s something about this story that just doesn’t seem right.   In the digital age it’s hard to imagine that financial transactions files can be missing.  Typically there are copies and backups of financial files.  Moreover, the vast majority of that type of data would be a public record that would have no intrinsic value to a potential embezzler.  

Even if there’s been some sort of theft, an arrest and $100,000 bail seems like an unusual reaction.  I would have thought this would have been handled administratively within state government.  Furthermore, an administrative support specialist doesn’t seem like the likeliest of candidates to be at the center of major breach of information security.

The current Treasurer Dale Folwell is a stickler for the fine points of the law.  Last year he discovered that 61 people owed $871,892 over the past decade because the department had miscalculated their benefit payments.[2]  The Treasurer decided he had to recoup the money because that’s what the law requires.  As the N&O reported, the Treasurer’s enforcement of the law led to extreme hardship for some disabled and low-income retirees.[3]  Even if the State Treasurer recovered every penny of the overpayments, and he won’t because some of the recipients are dead, the recovery would amount to 0.001% of the pension’s assets.     Instead of chasing down beneficiaries to recoup monies that are the result of the department’s miscalculations, perhaps the State Treasurer should seek legislation to protect those beneficiaries.

I fear that the State Treasurer may have once again exercised questionable judgment in seeking out the Wake County D.A. to resolve the alleged crimes committed by Ms. Lucas.  As a $35,000 per year employee Ms. Lucas isn’t likely to have the resources to hire her own attorney.  I hope that Ms. Lucas’s employee association, SEANC, concerned members of the General Assembly, and others in and around government will make sure that Ms. Lucas’s case is handled properly.