Former Spring Lake official gets four years behind bars in embezzlement case

Town of Spring Lake Municipal Building, courtesy of Town of Spring Lake Facebook page.

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  • Spring Lake's former town finance director faces four years in prison after admitting to embezzling more than $500,000.
  • The state took control of Spring Lake's finances in October 2021.

Spring Lake’s former finance director faces four years in federal prison after embezzling more than $500,000 from the town. Gay Cameron Tucker, 64, was sentenced Wednesday, according to a news release from the U.S. attorney’s office.

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

“Public corruption at any level is a crime that affects all of us and undermines our public institutions,” said U.S. Attorney Michael Easley. “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.” 

Between 2016 and 2021, Tucker wrote checks from town bank accounts for her personal use, according to the news release. She forged signatures of other town officials, including the mayor and town manager. “These forged checks were made payable to herself, used to cover her personal expenses, and deposited into bank accounts she controlled,” according to the release. “By abusing her position of trust, Tucker stole $567,070 from the Town over this five-year period.”

Authorities removed Tucker from the town finance director’s job in March 2021. A financial consultant Spring Lake hired during the government investigation of Tucker uncovered financial irregularities while assisting with an audit of town finances in 2019 and 2020.

Spring Lake made news in October, when State Treasurer Dale Folwell refused to release funds for the town to hire Justine Jones as its new town manager. Jones had been fired from the same job in Kenly.

Carolina Journal’s report included the treasurer’s response to Tucker’s embezzlement plea.

“I’m deeply concerned that the half million dollars that have been embezzled will not be recovered,” Folwell said. “One-third of it went to pay for a nursing home, and I’m deeply concerned, especially for the low- and fixed-income [people] of that community, that they deserve more competency, more transparency, and better government.” 

Folwell mentioned in October that officials are still looking for missing town vehicles that State Auditor Beth Wood cited in a March report

Folwell noted that this is the second time in 10 years that Spring Lake has been in trouble financially. 

A previous 2016 audit by Wood found mismanagement of the town’s finances, which included 63 Town of Spring Lake employees and three Board of Aldermen members misusing procurement cards and travel expenses for personal and unnecessary items over a five-year period. 

The Local Government Commission took control of the town’s finances in October 2021 after financial malfeasance came to light, resulting in concerns that the town couldn’t balance its annual $13 million budget. State officials found that the town permitted spending that wasn’t in the General Fund budget.

It was revealed that the town got a $1 million loan in October 2021 from the South River Electric Membership Corporation to build a fire station without getting state Local Government Commission approval.

“We just had to renegotiate a loan on a fire station that wasn’t documented,” Folwell told Carolina Journal. “It was a five-year no-interest loan for a fire station. That’s what you pay for a car, not a fire station.”