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Thursday, May 30, 2024

‘Backwards lying and deceit’: Pender County clerk of court removal hearing begins

Five people sit at a courtroom desk facing away from the camera.
Pender County clerk of court Elizabeth Craver, second from right, is facing three criminal charges. Now, she is awaiting judgement in a hearing to determine whether she ought to remain in office. 

[Ed. note: Below was originally published by Port City Daily’s media partner WHQR; read more from the NPR affiliate here.]

PENDER COUNTY — Pender County Clerk of Court Elizabeth Craver, one the most powerful elected figures in the county, was suspended from office after being indicted on three criminal counts in February. Now, a judge will decide whether she can remain in office.

On Wednesday morning, Pender County Clerk of Court Elizabeth Craver took the witness stand and delivered some of her first public remarks since her indictment.

Her thoughts on the State Bureau of Investigation’s inquiry into her tenure as clerk?

“It’s just been so much backwards lying and deceit,” she said.

On February 26, Pender County Clerk of Court Elizabeth Craver was indicted for two counts of obtaining property by false pretenses and failure to discharge duties as a clerk. She stands accused of, among other things, using county money to purchase items for personal use and making her employees campaign for her while on the clock. Since then, she has been suspended from office.

Craver’s criminal trial has yet to begin. The hearings which began on Wednesday, April 17, and are currently ongoing, are to determine whether she is fit to remain in office. Judge R. Kent Harrell will likely hear testimony until at least the end of the week. It’s up to him to determine whether Craver will stay clerk of court.

“The whole system falls down”

C. Boyd Sturges is the acting petitioner in this case, effectively acting as a prosecutor, though this is not technically a criminal case. During his opening statement, he told the judge that Craver’s alleged usage of government property for personal property presented a threat to Pender County as a whole.

“Government property is government property, and private property is private property,” he said. “If you can’t rely on that, the whole system falls down.”

SBI investigators stated that Craver purchased numerous items with county money for personal use, including a laptop, two ice machines, and an air conditioning unit. On the stand, Craver maintained that these items were still used for work purposes.

Craver had already been issued a work laptop. But she told the court on Wednesday that she experienced connection issues while using it — issues which Pender County was slow to fix.

“The wifi in the buildings did not work,” she said.

Craver claimed to conduct legal research, type up documents, and conduct virtual meetings on the Mac laptop. She said she used a hotspot, and that the work laptop could not connect to it. Sturges said that SBI agents only found personal material on the Mac, such as photos and videos connected to her iCloud account, and no work-related history.

She purchased these items using the court facility budget, which finance director and witness Margaret Blue said was for incidental office expenses. Craver would purchase items on her own dime and then request reimbursement.

Sturges also questioned Craver about her usage of county-owned furniture. He alleged that she took home multiple chairs, some of which later ended up as part of her deer stand. Craver alleged that she had taken home two office chairs to fix after discovering they had been broken. She explained that she fixed them because county repair orders “took too long.”

As for the chairs in the deer stand, she claimed that they had mold damage from Hurricane Florence, and were going to be trashed anyways.

“[County officials] don’t repair chairs, they just trash and replace them,” she said. “You’re out in the woods. I don’t mind sitting in a little bit of mold.”

Whether it was legal for her to take the chairs, even if they were going to be thrown out, remains in question. Jeremy Drummond, who manages facilities and fleet services for the county, said in his testimony on the witness stand that there was no written policy against it, but it was still “against the rules.”

Digging into timesheets

Another topic Sturges hit during his questioning was the alleged misuse of work time at Craver’s behest. He brought up a 2019 text exchange between the clerk and her then-employee Kristal Moore, alleging that Craver had told Moore to leave work early and help her shop for dresses in Wilmington.

“I’m gonna call the office and say I need your help at the bank so you can help me,” he quoted her writing.

Craver denied this, saying her instructions to Moore were “in jest.” She said she could not remember whether Moore came to help her during work hours. She also implied the text exchange had been altered.

“I think there are messages missing,” she said of the text exchange. “This [exchange] is not what I recall.”

The SBI has also alleged that Craver allowed employees to campaign for her while still clocked in. Several staff members, including Camille Harrell (who was appointed acting clerk after Craver was suspended) and assistant clerk Madeline Trifoli, said the campaign work was voluntary, but that they could not remember how they logged their campaign hours for Craver. Craver said on the stand that it was possible for employees to log the hours as “community service” hours. But Harrell disagreed.

“That would be a conflict,” she said.

A white woman testifies at the bench in court. She has a grave expression. She is flanked by a judge, clerk and a court interpreter, who are all listening intently.
Camille Harrell, who was appointed acting clerk of court after Craver was suspended, was one of the nine witnesses called to testify on Wednesday. 

SBI alleged that Craver overlooked these employees’ timesheets. But Craver said checking how her employees logged their timesheets was her administrative assistant’s job, not hers.

“I’m not here to police them. I’m not their babysitter,” she said. “They’re adults. They have supervisors.”

What now?

Sturges called a total of nine witnesses on Wednesday and told WHQR that he still has “several” coming down the pipe. Craver’s attorney Edwin West could not yet say how many he planned to call in her defense.

There are also still other accusations that Craver has to face: that she intentionally failed to correct a key clerical error on an owelty, that she fired Moore for cooperating with investigators, and that she tried to pressure employees into not cooperating with SBI. Both Trifoli and a deputy clerk named Cassie Messer alleged that in one-on-one conversations, Craver “intimidated” them, telling them to not speak with SBI unless she was present or asking about what they discussed with the investigators.

It’s difficult to say what the outcome of this trial will be. West is also representing Craver in criminal matters, so this removal hearing could serve as a testing ground for what works and what doesn’t work in defending Craver against the charges. Still, the stakes are plenty high as it is. 

Craver was appointed in 2017 to replace Robert Kilroy, who retired. She won the Republican primary in 2018 and, in the absence of a Democratic challenger, began a four year term in 2019. In 2022 she again won the Republican primary, defeating Jackie Newton.

Nikolai Mather is a Report for America corps member from Pittsboro, North Carolina. He covers rural communities in Pender County, Brunswick County and Columbus County. He graduated from UNC Charlotte with degrees in genocide studies and political science. Prior to his work with WHQR, he covered religion in Athens, Georgia, and local politics in Charlotte, North Carolina. In his spare time, he likes working on cars and playing the harmonica. You can reach him at

Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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