News: Quick Takes

Appeals court rejects retirement benefits from convicted former Wake County official

After taking almost $1 million from taxpayers, former Wake County Register of Deeds Laura Riddick won’t qualify for retirement benefits, a three-judge panel of the N.C. Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday, Nov. 3. 

Riddick, a Republican, pleaded guilty to six counts of embezzlement from the county office. She pocketed more than $900,000 of the cash receipts her office managed between 2010 and 2017, according to an investigation. Riddick agreed to repay $926,000 and serve five to seven years in prison. 

She has been fighting for retirement benefits, however. 

Riddick tried to convert her unused sick leave to qualify for early retirement. State Treasurer Dale Folwell challenged her, ordering Riddick to return $126,000 in benefits she collected since stepping down in 2017. 

“We’re sworn to be loyal to those who teach, protect, and otherwise serve,” Folwell told Carolina Journal. “Any dollar that is paid out of this pension plan to any individual who’s not entitled to it is one dollar too much.”

Riddick sued, saying Folwell’s order was unconstitutional — cruel and unusual punishment. She claimed she was due retirement benefits despite her felony convictions. 

The appeals court disagreed. The judges blocked Riddick from using her unused sick leave to boost accrued service. It handed down a harsher ruling than that from Wake County Superior Court, stripping her of 2.5833 years of creditable service instead of 1.25 years. 

Riddick’s annual salary was $143,267. She had built more than two decades of service time within the pension system.

“To remain eligible for retirement benefits, Riddick mutually agreed and bore a duty to faithfully execute the duties of her office and to receive, hold, and account for all public funds entrusted to her,” the ruling said. 

In June, the legislature passed Senate Bill 719 to prevent other convicted elected officials from using Riddick’s tactics to collect benefits. 

Folwell said he was pleased with the court’s unanimous ruling. 

‘“We don’t pick and choose which laws to apply or who to apply them to,” Folwell said. “We would hope that we’d never have to apply this law to any public servant at any level of North Carolina, but unfortunately, that’s not the case.”