Former Hoke deputy, county employee face fraud charges in OT scheme
A former Hoke County deputy and the county’s former human resources director have been charged with fraud in connection with a scheme to collect overtime pay, authorities said Friday.
Dedrick Graham and Latonya Benjamin each face 51 counts of obtaining fraud by false pretense, and Benjamin also faces 51 counts of accessing a government computer to defraud.
The charges come almost two years after the State Bureau of Investigation took control of Hoke County’s offices and seized county records.
District Attorney Kristy Newton and Sheriff Hubert Peterkin requested the SBI investigation after being told at least one county employee and as many as five sheriff’s office employees had engaged in fraud resulting in an overpayment of county funds.
Benjamin resigned as county human resources director, and Peterkin fired Graham days later.
County commissioners then hired an outside accounting firm to audit the overtime hours of sheriff’s office employees, and that review found more than $700,000 in questionable overtime that had been paid.
Peterkin and the commissioners briefly tussled over access to sheriff’s office payroll records, and the sheriff later characterized the audit’s findings as unfair, saying his staff works long hours.
Based on the audit, the SBI expanded its investigation to cover 29 detention officers in addition to the five deputies and later began looking into other allegations of wrongdoing that came up during the probe, authorities said.
The SBI eventually cleared all of the detention officers and four of five deputies of wrongdoing in its nearly 40,000-page report, authorities said.
“There is no evidence to suggest that the overtime hours claimed by these individuals were fraudulent,” Newton said in a statement. “To the contrary, the investigation showed that these individuals performed the work for which they were paid.”
“The officers who were under this cloud can breath better now. They know it’s over with,” Peterkin said Friday. “We’re just going to move forward from there.
“This has been two years, and for it to have 40,000 pages, it tells you it was thoroughly investigated by the bureau,” he added.
Graham was released on a $150,000 bond, while Benjamin remains in the Hoke County jail under a $250,000 bond.