Tommi Crow’s fateful connection to Nicole White started innocently enough at a 2005 social function.
Crow was hobnobbing at the event when she commented on her dissatisfaction with accounting services to acquaintance Carol L. King. Crow, one of Asheville’s most successful entrepreneurs, was riding high at the helm of her $2 million-a-year company, Crow Erickson Enterprises. Crow is known as the inventor of the patented InfoTube, those clear plastic tubes with red caps that Realtors often use to distribute fliers about property for sale.
King listened. Well-known in Asheville civic circles as an active Rotarian, King was also recognized for her high-profile work leading the redevelopment of Pack Square Park, the city’s crown jewel of public space. She also led her prestigious local accounting firm, Carol King & Associates. The certified public accountant was close with her daughter, Nicole White.
Crow eventually posted a help-wanted advertisement for a bookkeeper. White applied. Knowing White’s family connections, Crow hired her as a bookkeeper at $16 an hour. King later approached Crow about having Carol King & Associates serve as Crow’s accountant. Crow brought King aboard, as well.
For the next eight years, Crow became close friends with the mother-daughter team. Crow weathered the devastating financial blow of the U.S. financial crisis and kept at her real estate-based businesses. Then a banker called in 2013 with disturbing questions about overdrawn accounts.
Crow slowly began to unravel the financial mystery, and what she discovered shocked her. For years, White had been writing fraudulent checks and forging Crow’s name. The losses totaled nearly a quarter of a million dollars. And the other troubling facet: it all happened while White’s mother, King, was handling Crow’s accounting.
On Monday, Nicole White, 42, pleaded guilty to nine counts of felony obtaining property by false pretense. Buncombe County Superior Court Judge Marvin Pope sentenced White to at least 54 months in prison (the maximum term) and ordered her to pay $247,000 in restitution.
The criminal case comes on the heels of a related settlement: In June 2013, Crow filed a civil lawsuit against King and her accounting firm. The case was voluntarily dismissed earlier this year when, after three days of mediation, King agreed to settle for $350,000.
“It has devastated me,” Crow told the judge Monday afternoon in the Buncombe County courthouse’s ornate, fifth-floor courtroom. “I cared for Nicole. I didn’t want to believe it. … She is a criminal, a con artist. I loved her like a sister. She needs to go to prison. She needs to go to prison for a long time.”
Crow, a Missouri native, started working as a Realtor in Texas after college and began using a plain tube to leave sales fliers at her properties, according to a 2011 Verve magazine profile. Crow patented her InfoTube design, employed disabled people to make them and partnered with Home Depot to sell them in 1991. She moved to Asheville in 1994. Crow Erickson was booming. She told Judge Pope that her company was a $2 million-a-year enterprise before the real estate bubble burst in 2007-08.
Crow also started a sister company, Why6Percent.com, which helps homeowners sell their own homes without the aid of a real estate agent (who often charges a 6 percent commission on the sale.)
King adopted White when she was 4, after she’d been shuttled between two foster homes, according to Eugene H. Ruckle, the son of King (also known by his nickname “Skip.” Ruckle testified in Monday’s hearing.
White’s mother had overdosed on drugs during her pregnancy and abandoned her, Ruckle said. King and her husband (not Ruckle’s father) “decided to adopt, to bring – I hate to say a rescue – into the family.”
The family moved to Asheville, where White started at Reynolds High School. Runkle said she was soon moved to Asheville’s famous Highland Hospital, an institution that pioneered treatment for people with mental disorders. (Zelda Fitzgerald, the wife of novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, and eight other women died in a roaring 1948 fire that triggered screams from the two dozen women who escaped the inferno.)
White was a Highland Hospital resident for three years, Ruckle said. She left when she was 18. “It’s been rough. There were times when things were good, times when things were bad. We realized what a devastating early childhood she had.”
The scheme and the aftermath
White was charged with 17 counts of obtaining property by false pretense. The charges were cut down and consolidated into nine charges. Assistant District Attorney Pat Patton detailed the charges during Monday’s hearing, noting that for each year from 2007 through 2013, White forged checks totaling anywhere from about $21,000 to about $34,000.
King was acting as Crow’s outside accountant, doing general tax accounting work, reviewing Crow’s general ledger, reconciliations and accounts payable and receivable, as well as preparing state and federal tax returns. Crow never noticed anything amiss. That was King’s job, Crow told the judge.
Since the financial mess was uncovered, Crow has hired a new account to clean up her books. She amended all her company and personal tax returns during that period, paid associated penalties and hired an expert to testify in her civil suit against King.
After the judge read his sentence, Crow received hugs and support from a group of about six women in court in support of her, including Tressa Thornton, owner of Tressa’s Jazz Club in downtown Asheville.
King also watched the court proceedings Monday. In a telephone interview afterward, King said she was bound by a confidentiality agreement and could not comment on the civil case that Crow brought against her. In court documents, King denied the allegations that she discovered any financial improprieties and failed to report them.
Regarding her daughter, King said she felt the judge’s sentence “was filled with compassion.” Pope said he would recommend work release for a White. He also ordered a substance abuse assessment and other support for White.
“I spent my life mothering her to the best of my ability,” King said. “Where do send these children for treatment? People need to understand that we have to stand up for these children. There needs to be more people like me … more people to foster these children,” King said.
White had a love for dogs and cats and grew up doing the best that she could, King said, having started life as a dehydrated, abandoned baby.
“I don’t regret for one second that I was her parent,” King said.
Jason Sandford is a former newspaper reporter with 20 years of experience now making his way in the digital universe. He’s the founder of Ashvegas.com.
To all you CPA’s out there who are blaming their clients, stop it! We trust you and we pay you to keep our records straight. We put our financial lives in your hands. We do not have CPA degrees. That is what we pay you to do. You were supposed to be trustworthy, and these people aren’t. Take responsibility for yourselves, your actions, and your clients!
I don’t always have a lot of faith in the judicial system, but the system got it right this time…..at least in terms of punishing the daughter. The fact that the mother is still walking around proud of herself is a loose end. I’m at least glad that this chapter closed in favor of the good guy/woman!!
People seem to know their “rights” more than their wrongs these days. At the very least, the VERY least, she FAILED to see it. Isn’t that what her job is in the first place: To take your bookkeeper’s input, and process it to make sure it all works out? To protect your monetary interests? I scream foul. This woman knew what was going on. She has been around for long time, so this wasn’t her first rodeo. She needs to be investigated. Her license should be revoked. And she should be indited.
It is not a CPAs duty to audit a clients books in the preparation of tax returns which is all King did for you. Just ask the IRS. Those are your records Crow and your responsibility to make sure they are accurate. YOU failed in keeping your own house in order. Try taking some responsibility here, but victims never do.
No, it depends on the nature of the engagement. There was more involved here than tax preparation—–or didn’t you read the article?
“King was acting as Crow’s outside accountant, doing general tax accounting work, reviewing Crow’s general ledger, reconciliations and accounts payable and receivable, as well as preparing state and federal tax returns. Crow never noticed anything amiss. That was King’s job, Crow told the judge.”
Why do you think King coughed up $350,000.
Wish you had signed your name so I could avoid ever hiring you.
Dear indie victim worshiper,
In 35 years of practice I have never had a single client sue me or get audited from my work, so I know of what I speak. I can only assume you too prefer to side step responsibility for your actions and play the victim card whenever possible. Good luck with that philosophy.
You know, Indie CPA, you’ve got a point; having read this article, whose information is derived from public court records, I see your point. We should all take better care of our own business. We should not be complacent, we should be vigilant about our affairs. We should never fully trust someone else with our money, not the professionals or those who insert themselves into our lives as friends and family; here, we’re in agreement. My guess is that this is the greatest lesson Ms. Crow will be taking away from this horrid experience. So point made.
But I’d like to comment as a friend and as a mother. Someone who knows her childrens’ strengths and weakness’. What I find most appalling is Ms. King’s neglect of duty to keep her child out of harm’s way. Knowing her daughter’s history, and considering her own position as a literal and virtual over-seer of Ms. Crow’s business dealings via Nicole White, Ms King had an opportunity, if not responsibility, to keep both her client and her daughter safe. She had the chance through this triangulated alliance to make sure her daughter did right by her client–her daughter’s employer; instead, whether by pure neglect, denial, stupidity, arrogance, or outright maliciousness, we’ll never know, but Ms. King allowed really bad things to happen to a really great person. If nothing else, in my estimation as a human-being, Carol King’s personal, maternal, parental, moral and ethical compasses are broken, even if there’s only a crack in her professional one. In her own last words from above: ‘“I don’t regret for one second that I was her parent,” King said.” Past-Tense. Pretty much says it all. So, let’s not blame the victim, here. It’s bad enough we do this to women in cases of rape and domestic violence, let’s not drop to that level of discourse now.
….what Cynn Chadwick said.
CPA, man are you clueless.
King was paid to review the ledger and reconcile accounts, not just do taxes. Again, why do you think she shelled out 350k if she didn’t do anything wrong?
I live in Missouri and have known Tommi since we were kids. I thoroughly enjoyed your article and am glad that Tommi got some justice out of this whole mess. Thank you for writing the article. It was very enlightening.
Is this the same Carol King who was involved in the attempted sale of part of Pack Square to Stuart Coleman and massive cost overruns on Pack Square Park?
Roo, it is the same Carol King who was the chairperson for Pack Square. It is also the same Carol King who was the accountant for Kathryn Philpott-Hill and the failed Bouche Dental Spa. It is also the same Carol King who was indicted for the failure of the Bank of Asheville.
I’m not sure which is worse in this story, the fact that a guy refers to his adopted sister as a “rescue,” that her adoptive mother refers to her parenthood in the past tense, or that everyone involved, including Jason, is so cavalier about discussing the mental health treatment someone received while they were a juvenile. Using that treatment history to reference a Cool Asheville History Anecdote also strikes me as weird and unnecessary.
Obviously a crime was committed here, and I don’t think anyone is allowed to blame their rough childhood for crimes they commit in their 30s and 40s, but something still feels a little off and ugly about this write-up.
I had the same reaction. Sad all around.
Jason, one correction. Carol Kings sons last name is Ruckle. And,he is known around town as Skip, not Eugene.
We’ve got one of Tommi Crow’s InfoBoxes in our yard right now. Great, simple invention. Neat to have a local link with it.
Jason, I want to thank you for taking the time to tell everyone this story. I wish I had had the opportunity to meet you and shake your hand.
If it protects one person from becoming a victim of Carol King or Nicole White…then you have done a very good thing. This horrible experience has been one of the most devastating things that has ever happened in my life. The thought that someone else could possibly benefit from my story is the silver lining in all this.
I have to say that Carol King’s comments… that we should all be more like her… turns my stomach. Still gaslighting and grand standing after all this. I hope the light you have put on this horrible crime, forces the powers that be to open an investigation into Mrs King. I hope the CPA examiners board also sees this article before they close their investigation into the actions of one of their public certified accountants.
How could the mother, the accountant, not know what was going on? Seems like an inside job. I always hate when adoptive parents are quick to point out that they are not the birth parents when things go wrong but take full credit when the child is an over-achiever.
“There needs to be more people like me…” C. King….Are you friggin’ kidding me? She lost a civil suit against her for helping her daughter rob their friend, and she turns herself into a hero? A rescuer of children? What a narcissist. So, the truth is, Mother and daughter (puts that whole nature vs nurture thing into question, eh?) are exactly the same people. Liars and thieves and in total denial of their crimes. Were I a client of Carol King’s, I’d take my paperwork and run! wow.
I was thinking the same thing. What a piece of work this lady is!! (keeping it clean here) Yeah, I think I’d take my business elsewhere too.
A millionaire from patenting InfoTubes. Proof the American Dream is still working!
Sadly ironic headline on that Verve article…
Congratulations Jason on an excellent investigative report! I believe there will probably be much more to come about Carole King.