Former Landis finance officer sentenced

Published 6:09 pm Wednesday, May 10, 2023

LANDIS — The former Landis finance officer implicated in an embezzlement conspiracy dating back a decade was sentenced to at least 3.5 years in prison on Wednesday.

Ginger Gibson was taken into state custody in handcuffs shortly after 5 p.m. following a lengthy hearing in which her attorney argued that her role in the embezzlement scheme was merely a passive one. Her official sentence ranged from 44-65 months in prison.

Gibson pleaded no contest to the charges that included felony embezzlement and conspiracy for the scandal that has already seen the former town manager, Reed Linn, imprisoned.

Before Superior Court Judge Craig Croom’s courtroom, N.C. prosecutor Jordan Ford laid out a patchwork of impropriety in which Gibson knowingly participated in various efforts to scam money out of the town. Those efforts included improper credit card purchases, fraudulent time cards and excessive bonuses.

An agent from the state provided evidence that Gibson clocked hours when she was on vacation in Punta Cana, Mexico; Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; and at a friend’s wedding. That same agent demonstrated how Gibson used a Landis credit card for purchases at the Club at Irish Creek golf course and numerous trips to the ABC store.

The inflated salaries represented the most significant portion of the money obtained by Linn and Gibson, with each reporting income in excess of $200,000 multiple times over the decade from 2010-2019, when evidence of the crimes first surfaced.

During that time, Gibson accepted $899,495 in salary and benefits. Linn, who is currently serving time in Albemarle, took $1.5 million. A third party in the scheme, Andrew Morgan, the former parks and recreation director for Landis, was given probation.

While Gibson’s attorney, Vernon Russell, painted a picture of town officials turning a blind eye to Linn and Gibson’s bloated payrolls, Ford pointed to one interview where a former alderman called the situation “the fox running the hen house.”

Linn was in the courtroom on Wednesday to answer questions from Russell and Ford about the extent of his and Gibson’s roles in the embezzlement case. Russell sought to illustrate a situation in which Linn controlled the purse strings and maintained authorization of the illegal payments, arguing that every dime Gibson received was “authorized by a superior.”

Ford’s closing statements countered Russell’s claims that Gibson was a passive party to the crimes.

“Who was responsible for the books?” Ford said. “Linn and Gibson. The method they did it was secretive.”

Ford noted that as finance officer, Gibson had a fiduciary responsibility to check Linn’s behavior, not simply to go along with it. In North Carolina, municipalities that adopt a town manager style of government do so with the understanding that the finance officer and town manager will serve as checks and balances on the other.

During the sentencing, Croom said, “There were no checks and balances, just a lot of checks written.”

In a statement submitted to the court, Landis town officials asked the judge not to believe the words shared by Linn in the courtroom on Wednesday and to be aware of the overreaching impacts of his and Gibson’s deceit. According to the letter, Linn and Gibson’s actions marked Landis with a reputation of distrust and suspicion.

“Prior board members have been ridiculed and personal integrity called into question,” the letter read. “The existing board struggles to regain the trust and confidence of the citizens they were elected to serve. Landis is a resilient community, the money stolen and the skepticism exhibited by the citizens toward their leaders are temporary setbacks. Unfortunately, the most devastating impact is that the fruits of labor cultivated by generations of Landis leaders were squandered by these two individuals.”

By extracting money from the treasury, Gibson and Linn left Landis in a precarious financial state, nearly unable to pay its bills.

“It is bad enough that so much money was being stolen from the town, but could they not have at least made certain that the most basic bills were being paid before taking this money for themselves,” the town’s letter read. “Efforts by so many boards, citizens past and present, were consumed by the greed of these two individuals. Whereas they may have contributed some good, the fact remains that Landis will always be deprived of what it might have become.”

While the judge ruled that Gibson would be required to pay back the money that she took, Gibson’s attorney indicated that there was no way she would ever be able to.