The former headmaster of Southlake Christian Academy in Huntersville is facing a wire fraud charge tied to the embezzlement of nearly $9 million from the school and its affiliated church, federal prosecutors said Friday.
Prosecutors allege Wayne Parker Jr., 59, used the money to fuel a lavish lifestyle that included a million-dollar lake house, Carolina Panthers’ permanent seat licenses and luxury vehicles.
Parker confessed in a plea agreement filed Friday. He is expected to appear before a U.S. Magistrate Judge to formally enter his guilty plea when the court schedules the plea hearing.
“It takes an especially ruthless person to steal money intended to educate children and promote religion and use it to bankroll an extravagant lifestyle you’d otherwise never be able to afford,” FBI Special Agent in Charge John Strong said in a prepared statement.
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Parker “is willingly cooperating with law enforcement and has provided a full confession and restitution to the best of his abilities,” his lawyer, Rob Heroy, said in an email.
Southlake Presbyterian Church had launched an internal investigation in 2014 and after they reported irregularities to the Huntersville Police Department, the FBI became involved.
Parker worked as an accountant until he was convicted of federal tax violations in 1990, according to court documents. After his conviction, he obtained a nursing degree and worked as a nurse until getting hired as the school’s headmaster in 1996.
He joined Southlake Presbyterian in 1991, and later became volunteer treasurer, which gave him access to and control over the church’s bank accounts, court documents say. As headmaster at the school, Parker was responsible for the administration and its finances while also having control over its bank accounts, among other things.
The documents allege that his scheme to defraud the school and church began in 2000, four years after he was hired.
Jet skis, gold coins
Parker needed extra money to build a house for his family in Mooresville in 2000, the documents stated. He didn’t have the means to fund the entire project himself — a 3,140-square-foot house on approximately 7 acres— so he stole about $100,000 from the school, according to the court documents. Before this, he was living in a trailer.
The documents alleged he embezzled the money to pay for personal expenses that contributed to an extravagant lifestyle: He purchased multiple plots of land, built two homes and took vacations around the world.
He also used the money to pay his taxes and credit card bills, bought a boat and jet skis, purchased gold and silver coins and also bought gifts for family and friends.
He took the money from school and church related funds, the documents stated. As a part of the scheme, he stole from parents that donated money to the school in memory of their deceased child, as well as the church’s tithing account.
In 2010, he built a 7,023-square-foot lake-front house that cost approximately $1.2 million, the documents stated. To fund the construction, the documents said Parker made all school employees take a 5 percent pay cut, which he publicly claimed was due to tough economic conditions.
However, documents say the money wasn’t only for himself: Starting in 2000 and continuing into 2014, Parker also embezzled school and church funds for an unnamed co-conspirator.
When the scheme began, the co-conspirator had Parker issue additional paychecks beyond what he was entitled to, the documents stated. The co-conspirator also had Parker use church and school funds to pay for his personal expenses: college tuition, room and board for his child, medical bills, taxes, cars and credit card bills, according to documents.
To hide his theft, Parker opened approximately 29 checking accounts, acquired 26 credit cards and seven loans, as well as created nine limited liability companies. He also created a fake document from an accounting firm, which posed as an audit that said the school had a clean financial bill of health, according to court documents.
After the school became suspicious of Parker’s activities in 2014, court documents say Parker stole and destroyed school financial records to prevent law enforcement from discovering his activities.
He resigned in October 2014.
Parker faces a maximum prison term of 20 years and a $250,000 fine. According to the U.S. Attorney’s press release, Parker has agreed to pay restitution, the amount of which will be determined by the court at sentencing.
In a statement, the school said it has spent the last two years implementing policies, procedures and oversight to provide effective stewardship and protection of their assets.
“As a Church and Academy, we are deeply grieved by the actions that have taken place and satisfied with the outcome of the FBI’s investigation,” the school stated. “The actions of Mr. Parker will not lead us to bitterness toward him or his family, nor into despair in the high calling of providing a Christian education in the Lake Norman area.”
The school, which was started in 1994, covers pre-kindergarten through 12th grade for 660 students. Tuition ranges from $8,500 to $12,100 a year.
“Parker misused his access to the school and church’s finances, treating their bank accounts as an endless cookie jar, dipping in repeatedly to fund his lavish lifestyle,” stated Jill Westmoreland Rose, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina. “If Parker’s moral compass was not enough to stop him from breaking the law and ripping off those who put their faith in him, a good dose of American justice will.”
Observer staff writer Michael Gordon and researcher Maria David contributed
Cole: 704-358-5357; @kianamcole