Dems, GOP respond to McManus resignation

Dec. 13, 2013 @ 05:03 AM

Deb McManus, the former state representative for Chatham County and parts of Lee County in the General Assembly, had her first court appearance Thursday morning in Wake County District Court.

McManus, a Democrat from Siler City, resigned her position on Wednesday hours after turning herself in to be arrested on felony tax charges — specifically, three counts of embezzling state property. She was later released on a $150,000 unsecured bond.

The charges don’t stem from any of her duties as member of the House of Representatives. Rather, she was charged in her role of bookkeeper at her husband’s Siler City medical practice — which was has since been sold to FirstHealth of the Carolinas — for aiding and abetting the medical practice “to embezzle, misapply and convert to its own use $47,369.00 in North Carolina Individual Income Tax withheld ...” according to the N.C. Department of Revenue.

Since the amount in question is less than $100,000, McManus will face a class F felony pending any further developments. With no prior convictions, if she is found guilty, she could be sentenced to about a year in prison or on supervised probation — which could include a mix of confinement and probation, or house arrest, community service or other measures.

McManus didn’t come to court Thursday, although her attorney vouched for her to the judge and said they are working with the N.C. Attorney General’s office, which will be prosecuting the case. The judge set her next court date for Jan. 2.

Within hours of her resignation, rumors about possible replacements for McManus were gearing up. The Lee and Chatham Democratic parties will form a joint committee to appoint someone for the remainder of her term and then must have that person approved by the state Democratic Party, according to party leaders.

“[McManus’s] long service as a member of the Chatham County Board of Education and her passion for education and teachers qualified her to become an advocate for public education in North Carolina,” the Lee County Democratic Party said in a statement. “She had begun to make an impact in the General Assembly in education, voting rights, women’s rights, and other issues she cared about, and her voice will be missed.”

Ann McCracken, chairwoman of the Lee County Democratic Party, said she has already been talking with local and state-level Democrats about getting the appointment process started.

“I’ve had several people speak to me about people they thought might be interested, but I haven’t spoken with any of those [possibly interested] people yet,” she said Thursday.

Randy Voller, chairman of the N.C. Democratic Party and the former mayor of Pittsboro — and who has recently had several financial controversies of his own, including owing nearly $290,000 in back taxes — said the Lee and Chatham Democrats will pick two candidates each, and then a joint committee will select from among those four.

Voller said in a written statement that McManus “has served the citizens well as a longtime member of the Chatham County school board and most recently as a member of the N.C. House of Representatives. Her family’s financial challenges are personal in nature and outside of her role as an elected official.”

The state Republican Party took a different angle.

“Ironically, McManus campaigned on raising North Carolina’s state sales tax,” the N.C. GOP said in a press release. “Although innocent until proven guilty, McManus’s arrest highlights a recent trend of prominent North Carolina Democrat leaders facing legal troubles as a result of tax fraud and other ethical lapses.”

The group went on to mention Voller’s civil issues, as well as criminal charges levied against other North Carolina Democrats in recent years — including former Speaker of the House Jim Black, who was sentenced to five years in prison for bribery and obstruction of justice.

The GOP did not, however, mention Republicans facing legal troubles. In the most recent such case, Rep. Stephen Laroque (R-Kinston) was convicted earlier this year of stealing nearly $300,000 in federal funds from nonprofits he led, as well as a host of other crimes. He’s scheduled to be sentenced in February and could receive up to 90 years in prison.