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Man sentenced to prison for embezzlement
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CHARLOTTE — Richard Allen Clark, 55, of Lenoir, was sentenced in federal court Thursday to 48 months in prison for embezzling more than one million dollars from his former employer.

In addition to the prison term imposed, U.S. District Judge Kenneth D. Bell also ordered Clark to pay $980,000 as restitution to the family, as well as $194,750 to the IRS. Clark will also serve three years of supervised release, according to a press release issued by the Department of Justice.

Chad Gragg and his brother Neal Gragg owned Buffalo Creek Nurseries Inc. and Robert M. Gragg & Sons Nursery, where Clark served as the office manager for both companies from January 2013 to May 2019.

Clark admitted in court that he used the stolen funds to pay for his personal lifestyle, including making payments for his home mortgage, to make auto loan payments on his F-150 truck and other vehicles, to install a home theatre system, for travel, shopping expenses, and other things, according to the press release.

During the sentencing, representatives for the Gragg family spoke in court about the detrimental impact of Clarks fraud on their company, and the personal and financial hardship they sustained as a result of the defendant’s criminal conduct.

In a 2019 interview with the News-Topic, Gragg said that for years the family business was struggling, and the brothers were having to live off of their wives income to stay afloat.

The lawsuit filed by the Gragg family states that in mid-2016, Chad Gragg told Clark to close a Buffalo Creek Nurseries checking account with Capital Bank.

Gragg had opened a new business account with First Citizens bank after the business moved addresses.

Clark did not close the Capital Bank account, instead, he began telling some of Gragg’s customers to mail checks to the old address where he picked them up, endorsed them for deposit, and deposited them into the account Gragg believed to be closed, the lawsuit said.

In June, Gragg told the News-Topic that he received a phone call from someone at Capital Bank in 2019, asking to speak to Clark, and said that his new checks were ready.

“I knew right then something was up,” Gragg said, because the account was supposed to be closed.

Once Gragg requested the bank statement, it was revealed that Clark had written himself $30,000 in checks, forging Chad Graggs’ signature.

Throughout the investigation, Clark was accused of having embezzled more than one $1 million from the Gragg family.

In the interview, Gragg said, “the money is one thing, but just the betrayal...that’s the worst part, you know?”

Reporter Candice Simmons can be reached at (828)610-8721

Brewery strives for New Orleans style district
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GRANITE FALLS — Mario Mastroeli, owner of Granite Falls Brewing Company (GBF), is spearheading the drive to bring Gov. Roy Cooper’s newly approved “social districting” to Granite Falls.

Similar to how the streets of New Orleans flow, the social district allows drinking alcohol in the street to be made legal in some outdoor areas, according to House Bill 890.

According to the new law, local officials will be required to clearly identify the boundaries and hours of the social district.

Anyone who buys alcohol to consume must not carry it out of the designated district, and to-go containers must have some sort of logo or marking indicating it has to stay within the social district, the law states.

“It always had to be an alcohol establishment that proposes the social district,” Mastroeli said. “It has to ride on the back of someone that has a mixed-beverage permit, or the malt-beverage permit, or wine.”

If approved, Granite Falls would follow as having one of the first social district areas in North Carolina. The city of Kannapolis announced its newly formed social district, West Avenue District, as the first under the new law.

Mastroeli said he plans to submit his proposal for the district to the town of Granite Falls next week. The town will in turn have to submit it to the state for review.

“What this social district enables our residents to do in the residential area, is bring their dogs up here to the brewery, dine in the brewery, leave with a beer in their hand, a mixed drink in their hand, or wine, and they can walk home with this alcohol without being cited for an open container,” Mastroeli said.

Another possible benefit Mastroeli can envision from the social district is future events like concerts and festivals, where people can walk around and socialize with a larger alcohol boundary.

The number one concern Mastroeli said he’s heard so far is what the streets may look like after a fun-filled week of walking, talking, and tossing.

“I walk every day around here, there’s already trash all over the place,” he said. “There’s no trash cans. So what I propose to do is fix the problem. The brewery will pay for the trash cans and all materials, like trash bags.”

Mastroeli said the social district would be closed on Sundays, and that during that time, himself along with other GFB employees, will take care of any leftover trash, change out the trash bags, and use his own trash cans to store the trash.

“The city does not need to worry about it,” he said.

“I also want everyone to know, if this were to be approved, I would end it if things were to get completely trashed or if any problems result from the district,” he added. “This is something that would be riding on our backs and if it doesn’t go well, I would retire it immediately.”

GFB has also offered to pay for all signs that are required by the ordinance, cups, and any other costs associated with the social district.

“All of that will be taken off of the town. The only thing I need from the town is where to place the trash cans, and where to place the signs,” Mastroeli said.

Rob Howard, developer of Duke Street Cottages, which is located on the proposed district street, says he’s on board.

“It creates a lot of connectivity and increases the likelihood of getting to know your neighbors,” Howard said.

Howard said he believes the social district would be yet another added benefit of living in one of the cottages, which are Caldwell County’s first solar powered homes.

“I know not everyone who moves in would be interested in drinking, but for someone who is, to be able to walk across the road, have dinner and some drinks and go home without getting a ticket would be good.”

Howard added, beyond that, “even if I wasn’t developing houses, as a citizen of Granite Falls it would be something I support. I think it would be a great thing.”

Reporter Candice Simmons can be reached at (828)610-8721

Halloween mystery heist game comes to Lenoir
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LENOIR — Participants of Downtown Lenoir’s Haunted Halloween Mystery Heist have a chance to win a grand prize of $1,000 in cold, hard cash if they can crack the case of “whodunnit,” first.

In Lieu of the Mad Matter Pumpkin Patch Parade, which typically draws 2,000 kids to downtown, the city is hosting a more pandemic friendly Halloween activity this year.

Matthew Anthony, Main Street Community Engagement coordinator, said the city of Lenoir has partnered with several downtown businesses to bring an interactive mystery game to the streets of downtown in conjunction with Halloween.

Anthony said the game is played on an app that participants can download on their phone, where a blend of real life clues and augmented reality shape the mystery solving experience.

The game-plot is similar to the game of CLUE, but instead of a murder mystery, participants will have to solve the case of which suspect is plotting to steal one of Lenoir’s most famous sculptures, he said.

“The suspects are cartoon caricatures based on people from Lenoir that we all know, like one of the commissioners and several other people locally,” Anthony said.

“One example of the clues could be something like- ‘we saw several of the suspects going into one of the buildings,’ you would then take a picture of the door and the app, using augmented reality, would put fingerprints on the door, and you would have to match it to the suspect,” he said.

“This is also a family event, so we’ve made the game with varying levels of difficulty within the one challenge, so it will require some team work,” he added. “There are points in the game where children can participate and it still be fun, and feel like they’re getting things right too.”

The game starts Monday, Oct. 25 and stops at midnight on Halloween.

Anthony says people can play at their leisure, but those looking to score a cash prize have to beat the clock, and need to play the game during business hours.

“The winner is determined by an accumulation of points gathered, and for some clues you have to interact with business owners,” he said. “The game includes points for creativity (like wearing costumes for some photo ops), plus the time it takes you to play.”

The game will give you a chance to solve it at the end, but will not notify participants if they’ve won.

“The winners will be announced live on the radio at Kicks 103.3 on Nov. 1 at 7:45 a.m.,” Anthony said.

Rick Wakefield, who owns Dead People’s Stuff in Lenoir, said he jumped at the chance to partner with the city for the event.

“It goes right along with my store,” he said. “I hate they had to cancel the parade, and I wanted my business to be a part of something for families to be able to get out and do through all of this.”

Anthony says the game will take around an hour to an hour and half to play if played through in one session.

Teams of two to 10 can sign up to play, and the game will also include a second place and third place winner.

Second place will receive $350 and third place will receive $150.

Early registration for the game is $10 per team, and $20 after the early registration period.

For more information, visit www.downtownlenoirnc.com

Reporter Candice Simmons can be reached at (828)610-8721