Mecklenburg County candidates faced financial and legal trouble. One went to prison.

Stickers waiting for early voters at  the Hal Marshall Center on the first day of early voting in Charlotte, Thursday, August 24, 2017.
Stickers waiting for early voters at the Hal Marshall Center on the first day of early voting in Charlotte, Thursday, August 24, 2017.

Mecklenburg County candidates have faced arrest, judgments, bankruptcy and foreclosure. One spent almost two years in state prison.

Those are the findings of an Observer review of civil and criminal records for candidates for county commissioner and sheriff.

Each of the candidates is running in the May 8 primary. Here are the findings.

Tigress McDaniel, D, at-large commissioner

McDaniel, then known as Tosha McDougal, served about 20 months in state prison after being convicted in 2006 in Cabarrus County on 2003 charges of obtaining property under false pretenses and identity theft. She maintains her innocence of what she calls "trumped up charges."

McDaniel, who has twice run for office in Guilford County, was charged in 2010 with misdemeanor larceny, with simple assault in 2011 and with resisting an officer in 2014. Each charge was eventually dismissed, according to records.

McDaniel has filed more than 50 lawsuits in Mecklenburg, Guilford and other North Carolina counties, against public bodies, lawyers, landlords and others she has done business with. Court records show she has been the subject of a "gatekeeper order" — a restriction that requires court approval to file lawsuits in order to prevent abuse of the process – which has been registered in several counties.

Last month the Observer reported on McDaniel's suit against two Charlotte-Mecklenburg school parents, the district, the school board and several employees. Mecklenburg commissioners provide about 30 percent of the CMS budget.

McDaniel, who says she attended law school for a year, says she's known as "Queen Get 'Er Done."

"There are people who, to this day, think I'm a lawyer," she says.

McDaniel's web page includes her stated aspiration to be president as well as T-shirts and hoodies.

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Ray McKinnon, D, at-large commissioner

Records show McKinnon faces a $14,938 judgment to a collection agency stemming from the 2002 purchase of a desktop computer.

The Rev. Ray McKinnon, president of Young Democrats of Mecklenburg County Courtesy of Ray McKinnon

McKinnon says he took out a $2,000 loan for the computer while he was a student at High Point's John Wesley University. He fell behind on payments and over the years lost track. The debt appears to have been sold and has since ballooned higher and higher. McKinnon says he's working with an attorney to deal with the judgment.

"I owe money but I don’t owe $14,000," he says. "We don’t think that is a fair judgment."

Vilma Leake, D, District 2

In 2013, a homeowners association foreclosed on a home Leake owned in southeast Charlotte after she failed to pay nearly $16,000 in yard maintenance fines and related fees. Tax records show the house is worth $312,000.

The house in Raintree, near the Arboretum, had once been at the center of a residency dispute.

Leake lived in the two-story brick home on Whitethorn Drive, in District 6, before renting an apartment in District 2 in 1997 to run for the school board. When her residency was challenged, elections officials ruled in her favor. She was elected to the county board of commissioners in 2008.

Vilma Leake 4

"I wasn’t living in the house," Leake says now. "I was living in an apartment."

Records show the Deerpark Homeowner's Association acquired the house for $20,000. Three years later it sold for $256,000. Leake said she's trying to recoup some of the money.

Angela Ambroise, D, District 3

Records show a real estate company started evictions against Ambroise in 2003 and 2004. She said they were tied to her work in property management. One occurred after she lost her job with the management company and had to vacate an apartment, she says, adding that the other was canceled when she agreed to move out of an apartment.

Ambroise, 42, now works in real estate.

"That's one of the reasons why I'm running," she says. "Experiencing that and not knowing where to go, it was rough and I was determined not to give up."

George (Giovanni) Dortche, D, District 3

A 2007 charge of assaulting a female was dismissed. Dortche says the charge came after he tried to break up an altercation between a friend and a woman. At one point, he says, the women started pushing him just as police came. "It was me being the peacekeeper," he says, "and I guess the officer saw it as unlawful touching."

George Dortche
George Dortche Courtesy George Dortche

In 2009 he was charged with resisting an officer. Records indicate it was dismissed though no details are readily available. Dortche says he recalls no such incident.

In Durham in 2006, he was found guilty of possessing marijuana. He says it belonged to somebody he was with, not him, though both were charged.

Antoine Ensley, D, Sheriff

In 2010 Ensley filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy. That's where debts are restructured, not erased. He says he was going through a divorce at the time.

Antoine Ensley Courtesy Antoine Ensley

"(I) just needed to make a family decision that was best for my family and chapter 13 was most logical, and that’s what we did," he says. "Some people walk away, and that’s not who I am."

Jim Morrill, 704-358-5059; @jimmorrill
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