Trial of former Landis leaders pushed to September, special prosecutor assigned

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, July 27, 2022

LANDIS — Two years ago, after a lengthy investigation into the town’s finances uncovered some glaring salary overspending and several accounts being over budget, three former leaders of the town were arrested on felony embezzlement charges.

Former town manager Reed Linn, former finance officer Ginger Gibson, and former recreation director Andrew Morgan were all arrested on various counts of felony conspiracy and felony embezzlement of public funds by a public officer/trustee.

The investigation was triggered after a January 2019 article in the Post revealed a state agency, the Local Government Commission (LGC), was concerned about the overspending on salaries, the over-budget accounts, and the lack of communication between the agency and town staff.

Initially, Linn said he would retire as manager but remain as fire chief, and called the report in the Post “fake news.” But three days after announcing his retirement, the State Bureau of Investigation opened a criminal probe, and instead of retiring, Linn resigned, and Gibson stepped down as well.

Salary records released by the town in March 2019 showed both Linn and Gibson pocketed salaries far higher than the town’s board had approved over a 10-year period. For instance, in 2018, Linn’s approved salary was $69,077, but he actually pocketed $285,541. Gibson’s authorized salary was about $50,000, but she managed to pocket as much as $248,008 that year. And they were taking home these unauthorized salary increases at the same time the town was forced to lay off several firefighters and police officers and increase taxes and utility rates just to balance the budget.

The trial was postponed last year, but was on the docket Monday, where it was continued until Sept. 19 in order to assign a special prosecutor to the case.

The N.C. Conference of District Attorneys is a state agency created to help prosecuting attorneys throughout the state with particular types of cases. The Financial Crimes Initiative was established to aid in the prosecution of non-violent crimes aimed at financial gain, for a person or an organization, involving, among other things, a breach of trust and fraud.

A team of district attorneys, lead by the White Collar Crime Resource Prosecutor and including four Regional Financial Crimes Prosecutors, acts as a resource to elected district attorneys on financial cases that can be “highly complex, involve large volumes of documents and evidence and required a focused approach,” according to the organization’s website. “These specialized prosecutors are responsible for prosecuting select financial crimes cases throughout North Carolina.”

A member of that Financial Crimes team will be taking on the prosecution of the three cases, according to a court spokesperson. It is not yet clear who the district attorney assigned to the case will be.