Burwell School

The Burwell School Historic Site.

Steve Peck, chair of the Hillsborough Historic Commission, confirmed there is an ongoing criminal investigation involving the Burwell School Historic Site at a meeting with the Hillsborough Tourism Board Aug. 5, according to the official minutes of the meeting.

The investigation is related to possible fiduciary fraud, with the missing funds estimated at over $80,000, and potentially exceeding $100,000, according to two persons with knowledge of the situation. 

A recent audit conducted by the Blackman and Sloop accounting firm, hired by the Hillsborough Historic Commission in July, has concluded and the results will soon be turned over to Hillsborough Police, the source said in reporting on a Sept. 4 meeting involving the commission and the Tourism Board. 

An investigator with the Hillsborough Police Department (HPD) declined to comment on the case. 

In June, the Burwell School Historic Site announced that “an investigation of theft” was being conducted by “the proper authorities.” 

A police report dated June 13 indicated that Officer Brinkley with the Hillsborough Police Department was conducting an investigation looking into “theft by employee” at the Burwell School Historic Site, 319 N. Churton St. 

According to the minutes from the Aug. 5 meeting, Peck said the Burwell School “operates with one bank account, one PayPal account and a debit card. The chair and treasurer have the authority to sign checks, but they relied on staff to provide the hard numbers.”

According to Peck, the chair and treasurer had not asked for the monetary numbers in some years. Peck, who became the chair in the fall of 2018, said that larceny was suspected in June once an online banking system was set up.

Once larceny was suspected, the Hillsborough Historic Commission then hired the third-party accounting firm in July to conduct an audit and to provide monthly financial reports for the commission moving forward. The commission is “assessing financial losses, and the most recent director is no longer working for the commission.” A new director will not be hired for some time, and Peck said the position would not be advertised until the fall.

Peck said the commission “plans to change officers in October and hire staff in the new year,” and in the future staff members will no longer have “financial responsibility,” with that power residing with Blackman & Sloop.

According to a statement from Peck at the Aug. 5 meeting, none of the money that went missing is expected to be recouped.

After the money went missing, Peck informed the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, and the commission is now tasked with turning over annual reports to the department.

Economic Development Planner Shannan Campbell reported that the commission “received all of its contracted funds for FY19, but she has not signed the FY20 contract or written any checks to the Burwell School since the June larceny discovery.”