Suit over $700,000 theft from business groups dropped

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 28, 2011

By Scott Jenkins
SALISBURY — A local business organization has dropped its claims that shoe store owner Ralph Baker and his daughter Susan Baker Mills had any part in a former executive’s embezzling money from the organization or an associated foundation.
Meanwhile, the dismissal agreement and a letter written by an attorney for the Rowan Business Alliance and Salisbury-Rowan Merchants Foundation say most the money stolen by Richard S. Perkins has been returned.
The Business Alliance and Foundation filed suit last year charging that Perkins, a former executive vice president of the alliance, stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from them before his death in 2009.
The original lawsuit named as defendants not only Perkins, but also Baker, who was a business partner of Perkins; Mills, who was an accountant for the alliance and foundation; Perkins’ widow Marie Perkins; his estate; and two businesses in which he had an interest.
Claims against Marie Perkins and Perkins’ estate were dismissed earlier. Marie Perkins’ attorney, Randolph James, said he could confirm a “confidential resolution” to those claims but could not divulge details.
Richard Perkins was a former Granite Quarry mayor who served as executive vice president of the Rowan Business Alliance and the Salisbury Rowan Merchants Foundation, a charitable foundation that primarily provides scholarships and further educational opportunities for area children. He died of an apparent heart attack in June 2009 at the age of 61.
The lawsuit claimed Richard Perkins embezzled more than $700,000 from the organizations, funneling the money to his business and personal accounts and using it to buy real estate, stocks and life insurance. Some of the money went to MBP Properties, a now-defunct business Perkins owned with his wife, and BP Properties, which he owned with Baker, the original lawsuit alleged.
However, an agreement between an attorney for the plaintiffs and lawyers for Baker and Mills says an investigation conducted for the action determined “that the individual defendants Ralph Baker, Marie B. Perkins, and Susan Baker Mills were not culpable in the unauthorized taking of funds by Richard S. Perkins” from the alliance and foundation.
“It has been determined that Richard S. Perkins was on his own in taking funds from the plaintiffs, and in doing so involved others,” says the dismissal agreement filed Monday in Rowan County Superior Court and signed by Andrew Abramson, who represents the Business Alliance and Merchants Foundation, and John Hudson and John Holshouser, who represent Baker and Mills.
Baker said his attorneys have advised him not to comment on the matter.
Marie Perkins’ attorney, James, said she was “truly an innocent spouse. She didn’t know anything about that business.”
In a letter to Hudson and Holshouser, Abramson writes that a “mutually exhaustive” investigation of the matter determined that Richard Perkins “appears to have acted alone in the actual taking of funds from the Plaintiffs.”
A motion for summary judgment filed by Hudson and Holshouser argues it was board members, employees and others responsible for operations of the Business Alliance and foundation who were “deficient in the exercise of their duties” and allowed Perkins to get away with the embezzlement. Their successors then looked for someone to blame, the motion says.
Abramson writes in his letter that the “nature and extent of his actions were unknown by the staff and directors of his employers … and upon their discovery, my clients were acting under a fiduciary duty to investigate this matter and did so in a prudent manner.
“And with the cooperation of all the parties, the vast majority of all funds wrongfully taken by Richard S. Perkins have been recovered and returned to the Plaintiffs,” writes Abramson, whose letter calls it “regrettable that all parties had to endure such an ordeal.”