Beth Wood’s swan song as North Carolina’s State Auditor came to an end Friday, Dec. 15, with her pleading guilty in Wake County Superior Court to two misdemeanor counts of misusing her state-owned vehicle.
Wood, a Democrat, was indicted on Nov. 7 by a Wake County grand jury.
She had stated on Nov. 1 at the end of a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing that she would not be seeking re-election in 2024.
The State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) conducted an eight-month investigation into Wood’s use of state-owned vehicles before and after the Dec. 8, 2022, accident when she hit a parked car owned by Chris Valverde of Pinehurst, near the intersection of Salisbury and Hargett Streets in downtown Raleigh.
Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman told Wake County Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway that Wood had used the vehicle between 2021 and 2022 for over a dozen trips to a hair salon, more than 40 shopping trips to Knightdale, and over two dozen trips to spas.
Judge Ridgeway sentenced Wood to 12 months of unsupervised probation. She could have faced 240 days in prison as the maximum penalty. Wood also paid $1,064 in restitution as part of a plea agreement. In addition, she agreed to resign from the position on Dec. 15.
“This is a sad day for Beth Wood,” Roger Smith Jr., Wood’s attorney, said in a released statement. “It’s an abrupt end to a great career as North Carolina’s State Auditor. For the past 15 years, she has been honored to serve the people of this state.”
Smith said that Wood, who served four terms as state auditor, “absolutely” loved her job and was thankful for the opportunity to have served. He also said she paid a heavy price but looks forward to her next chapter.
The last year of Wood’s career had been tarnished after the accident last year.
She was charged on Dec. 12 with a misdemeanor for hit-and-run, leaving the scene, property damage, and an infraction for unsafe movement.
Wood was at a Christmas party that night. Video obtained by WRAL shows Wood being led into the law office of Rufus Edmisten, a former NC secretary of State and Watergate lawyer, while her car remains in the intersection on top of Valverde’s car.
In March, Wood pleaded guilty to the hit-and-run charge. WNCN–CBS 17 reported that Wood appeared with her attorney, Roger Smith Jr, in court. The infraction citation was dropped. The report said that Wood told the judge that she was not impaired the night of the crash but that she had two glasses of wine at a previous Christmas party. She paid $11,000 in restitution and a $300 court fine.
Wood, who has been known as the state’s “watchdog” for her department’s audits of financial misconduct, also had good bipartisan relationships across the aisle.
“She has been a valuable colleague and public servant,” North Carolina State Treasurer Dale Folwell said in a press release reacting to Wood’s original announcement that she would not be seeking re-election. “She always keeps the best interests of the taxpayers in her heart and mind.”
As Wood leaves office, Jessica Holmes, former chair of the Wake County Board of Commissioners, will take over as interim State Auditor. Democrat Gov. Roy Cooper appointed her on Dec. 1. Holmes will serve the remainder of Wood’s term, which ends on Dec. 31, 2024.
Holmes, a Pender County native, is an attorney who currently works as deputy industrial commissioner. She previously was elected to two terms as a Wake County commissioner and twice elected as commission chair. She was also the 2020 Democratic nominee for commissioner of Labor.
Holmes also filed to run for the position in the 2024 primary election. Holmes told Carolina Journal that she has had experience as a former Wake County Commissioner allocating and tracking funds in an over $1 billion budget. She hopes to build upon her experience in her appointed term and if she is elected to the position in 2024.
“The position is nonpartisan in terms of how you serve the people of this state,” she said. “The numbers aren’t partisan, and there are three things that I’m going to focus on: transparency, accountability, and integrity. I think it’s good for the auditor to set an example in terms of fiscal responsibility internally as we seek to hold other state agencies accountable for being effective and efficient.”
Holmes told CJ that she has a lot of respect for Wood as the first woman to ever serve as the auditor on the Council of State and hopes to continue working across both sides of the aisle as her predecessor did.