Crime

For $9 million embezzlement, former Huntersville headmaster gets 5 years in prison

Wayne Parker, the former headmaster of Southlake Christian Academy in Huntersville accused of stealing $9 million from the school, walks to the Charles R. Jonas Federal Courthouse on Thursday, in July. He was sentenced to five years in prison Wednesday.
Wayne Parker, the former headmaster of Southlake Christian Academy in Huntersville accused of stealing $9 million from the school, walks to the Charles R. Jonas Federal Courthouse on Thursday, in July. He was sentenced to five years in prison Wednesday. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Saying Wayne Parker’s $9 million embezzlement was “amazing amount of money” and a “phenomenal” theft, U.S. District Judge Max Cogburn Wednesday sentenced the former headmaster of SouthLake Christian School to five years in prison.

Parker’s attorneys, who asked for a sentence of 50 months, didn’t dispute the seriousness of his crime. They said Parker was “keeping up with Joneses” – a reference to the affluent families whose children attended the school.

“I’m very ashamed,” Parker told Cogburn. “I let a lot of people down.”

Over more than 13 years, Parker, 59, and an unidentified partner stole more than $9 million from the Huntersville school, its affiliated church and the families of his students.

Parker averaged stealing about $650,000 a year.

He built at least two homes, including a 7,000-square-foot waterfront mansion on Lake Norman. He used the rest on international travel and cruises, luxury cars and boats.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Zolot told Cogburn that Parker “started small and got bigger.”

“He literally bought gold bars,” Zolot said.

The prosecutor also noted how, after the financial crisis in 2008, Parker was on a cruise when he sent teachers a letter stating they would have to take a 5 percent pay cut.

During Parker’s tenure, parents donated money to the school in memory of their dead child. The former headmaster stole that, too.

Federal sentencing guidelines called for a sentence of between 63 and 78 months. Zolot asked for a 63-month sentence.

Cogburn gave Parker 60 months, in part because he had admitted his embezzlement once confronted by the FBI.

Parker is now living in the Pacific Northwest. Cogburn has recommended that he be allowed to serve at the Sheridan Federal Correctional Institute in Oregon, a medium-security prison. If he completes a substance abuse counseling program in prison, his sentence could be reduced by a year.

Parker has been able to sell enough assets – such as a home and the gold bars – to repay the school about $3 million.

The sentence requires him to pay back $6 million.

“I assume you will go through the rest of your life unable to make much of a dent in that,” Cogburn told him.

After handing down the sentence, Cogburn told Parker, “You should feel at peace.”

Cogburn also said the pastor of the church is under investigation.

Wade Malloy, the founding pastor of SouthLake Presbyterian, and Parker resigned when church members launched an internal probe of the school finances in the fall of 2014.

Steve Harrison: 704-358-5160, @Sharrison_Obs

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