BB&T investigator says she was fired for not covering up fraud

Corporate investigator alleges company wanted her to be complicit in real estate fraud

The first 10 files related to the Village of Penland were virtually identical, the suit said. All were handled by Bryan Drum, the BB&T Shelby branch manager, who had transferred from a nearby location about a month earlier. At that point, the second employee reviewed more than 120 files related to Penland. Many of those files were also virtually identical.

In addition, the lots were valued at about six times their current tax value, most buyers lived outside North Carolina, they had never seen the lots and they had never met the loan officer.

Drum, who now works at Carolina Farm Credit of Shelby, could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Stroupe calls the FBI

After reviewing the files, Stroupe called her supervisors. She also contacted the FBI on March 5 about possible violations of federal law.

Though her immediate supervisors and other investigators quickly questioned the loans, Stroupe said higher levels of management seemed uninterested.

In an interview, Stroupe said she met with BB&T's regional banking manager, Charlie Mattox, and regional President Michael Willet in Asheville to discuss the case. Before she completed her presentation, Willett excused himself to attend a golf tournament.

Drum eventually lost his authority to approve loans, according to the suit, but Mattox then approved three additional applications related to Penland that "were already in the pipeline."

In her interview, Stroupe said she and Mattox had disagreed about other investigations, but her job evaluations were good. Their relationship deteriorated rapidly, however, after she refused to back off the Penland case.

During a review of property records in Mitchell County, she also found "other banks had already been there asking questions."

But Stroupe said she was told not to attend a meeting in May with BB&T officials and the FBI. She said she later learned that a report she prepared for the meeting was not given to the FBI.

Stroupe gets fired

Stroupe was fired June 20. Documents filed with the state Employment Security Commission include a warning for insubordination dated June 19, but it is not signed. A second document in the ESC file states that the warning was never delivered to her.

Instead, Stroupe said her supervisor called her to a conference room at work on June 20.

"He said, 'It's become obvious that you can not conform to a corporate setting, so therefore we are going to terminate your employment.' It was very clear that 'you're not here to ask questions, and we're not here to answer questions. You are being terminated.' "

Stroupe said after her supervisors took her company credit card, keys and employee badge, they had only one specific question before she was escorted from the building: "They asked for the Peerless case file. No other file."

BB&T initially challenged Stroupe's eligibility for unemployment benefits, saying she had taken time off work without approval and talked about personnel matters with other employees in violation of company policy. She challenged those claims in an appeal to the ESC, stating that she was fired "for investigating a $20 million bank fraud."

Stroupe was awarded her unemployment benefits, because the bank chose not to participate in the appeal hearing.

Copyright (c) 2007, The News & Observer, Raleigh, N.C. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.