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News Release

FIRST ARREST RESULTS FROM CLERK & COMPTROLLER’S GUARDIANSHIP FRAUD INVESTIGATION

Father accused of using more than $58,000 intended for daughter’s guardianship account

WEST PALM BEACH, FLA. (January 28, 2013) – A father is charged with using more than $58,000 from his daughter’s guardianship account to fuel his lavish spending – including a 2007 Jaguar XK and a flat-screen TV – is behind bars, the first arrest resulting from Clerk Sharon Bock’s Guardianship Fraud Program.

Willie E. Lockridge of Nashville, TN, was booked into the Palm Beach County Jail on Friday, after he was arrested January 8 by Nashville police. He faces charges of grand theft and organized scheme to defraud of more than $20,000.

“This exemplifies how our Guardianship Fraud Program protects Palm Beach County’s most vulnerable citizens,” Clerk Bock said. “I hope this arrest sends a clear message that my team is ready and able to act on behalf of those who can’t act for themselves.”

The Clerk’s guardianship fraud auditors, part of the Clerk & Comptroller’s Inspector General division, began their investigation into Lockridge, 41, in August 2012. They received a tip of some unusual activity in a guardianship account, and their investigation found that Lockridge convinced his brother – the guardian for Lockridge’s daughter – to cash $58,866.61 in checks designated for deposit only to the girl’s guardianship account.

The money intended to provide for the girl’s future – proceeds from the 401K plan of the girl’s deceased mother – was instead used by Lockridge to buy the Jaguar, a 54-inch Panasonic plasma flat-screen television, airplane tickets for his girlfriend, jewelry, shoes and other items.

The Clerk’s audit team turned their case over to the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office for criminal investigation. Sheriff’s office detectives coordinated with Nashville police on Lockridge’s arrest and his extradition to Palm Beach County.

Lockridge moved his daughter from Lake Worth to Nashville in June 2012. The girl’s mother died in October 2011.

Anticipating an increase in guardianship fraud in Palm Beach County, Clerk Bock hired an auditor specifically to investigate claims of fraud, waste and financial mismanagement by court-appointed guardians for elderly, minor children or incapacitated individuals.

She then launched the Guardianship Fraud Hotline in September 2011, to give people a way to anonymously report suspicious activity in guardianship cases. The hotline was the first of its kind in Palm Beach County, and among the first in Florida.

“The work our Guardianship Fraud Program team does in cases like this lays the groundwork for law enforcement to build a stronger criminal case, with the ultimate goal of protecting those who need it most,” Clerk Bock said.

Anyone who suspects a guardian, family member, attorney or caregiver of improper financial activities such as stealing money from a ward’s account, selling off a ward’s property or making suspicious loans or money transfers is urged to call (561) 355-FRAUD (355-3728). Reports also can be made by e-mail to fraud@mypalmbeachclerk.com, or online through the Clerk’s Guardianship Fraud Hotline page, at www.mypalmbeachclerk.com/fraud.

For more information about the Clerk’s office, please visit www.mypalmbeachclerk.com or call (561) 355-2996.

The Florida Constitution established the independent office of the Clerk & Comptroller as a public trustee, responsible for safeguarding public records and public funds. Clerk Sharon Bock is directly elected by and accountable to Palm Beach County residents.  In addition to the roles of Clerk of the Circuit Court, County Recorder and Clerk of the Board of County Commissioners, the Clerk & Comptroller is the Chief Financial Officer, Treasurer and Auditor for Palm Beach County.

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