Why would the FBI get involved in investigating embezzlement claims at a private school in Huntersville?
The reasons can vary, said Chris Swecker, assistant director of the FBI from 2004 to 2006. He later established a law practice in Mecklenburg County and was appointed by Gov. Pat McCrory to chair the Governor’s Crime Commission in 2013.
Such cases typically have to meet the FBI’s threshold of at least $250,000 in embezzled funds, Swecker told the Observer on Friday.
But the FBI also responds to requests for help from local police agencies, no matter the amount, he said, as local agencies might lack the forensic accountant and other resources the FBI has to investigate the cases.
The FBI’s Charlotte office announced this week that it is jointly investigating embezzlement claims at SouthLake Christian Academy on N.C. 73 in Mecklenburg County with the Huntersville Police Department.
The investigation follows news that the chief financial officer of SouthLake Christian Academy and the pastor who helped found the school 20 years ago had resigned amid a probe into financial mismanagement.
Wayne Parker, SouthLake’s CFO and former head of school, resigned unexpectedly last month as the school began a routine look at its finances. Parker hasn’t replied to messages from SouthLake officials since he resigned, said Robert Sawyer II, the school’s attorney.
A month later, Wade Malloy, senior pastor at SouthLake Presbyterian Church, resigned as school officials dug further into the school’s finances and confronted him about discrepancies, Sawyer said.
The private school was founded in 1994 as a mission of SouthLake Presbyterian Church and has about 800 students, pre-kindergarten through high school, and about 100 faculty and staff.
Sawyer declined to say how much money is thought to be missing.
FBI Charlotte office spokeswoman Shelley Lynch said she could be no more specific about the investigation other than to confirm it involves “allegations of embezzlement.”
Nancy Savage, who retired after 35 years as an FBI agent and supervisor, said the agency could be investigating any number of violations under Title 18 of the United States Code, which is the criminal and penal code of the federal government. All of the country’s white-collar crimes are listed in the code, she said.
Such cases often involve wire fraud, said Savage, executive director of the Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI, based in Dumfries, Va.
Mail and wire fraud has been a federal crime since 1872. It’s any scheme to deprive someone of money or other property via mail or wire communication.
Swecker said it wouldn’t surprise him for the IRS Criminal Investigative Division to be involved behind the scenes. “This is the perfect type of case for them to work on with the FBI,” Swecker said.
On Wednesday, Sawyer, the school’s lawyer, told the Observer that a church elder went to the Huntersville Police Department last Saturday morning to report the financial irregularities.
The elder reported the irregularities with the approval of SouthLake Presbyterian Church’s session, or governing body, Sawyer said.
“We’re going to let the FBI do their investigation and cooperate with them to the fullest extent possible,” Sawyer said.