RALEIGH, N.C. — BB&T Corp. must rehire a former company investigator who says she was fired after exposing a $100 million North Carolina development scam, an administrative law judge said in a ruling released Friday.
Judge Jeffrey Tureck said in his decision that Amy Stroupe should be reinstated to her position with back pay because of protection afforded by whistleblower laws. Stroupe said that she hopes to return to the job.
"I feel so happy and vindicated," she said. "This has been an almost three-year ordeal. It's been tough. I feel so happy that the judge was able to see the truth in all this."
Cynthia Williams, a BB&T spokeswoman, said the company believes the ruling is erroneous and does not accurately reflect what occurred.
"BB&T adamantly denies doing anything wrong and will be filing an appeal in this matter," she said.
Stroupe says she contacted the FBI in 2007 about a development scam in the mountains of North Carolina because the Winston-Salem-based bank refused to take action on it. Investigators now say the Village of Penland development was a Ponzi scheme, and Tureck said in his ruling that the bank was "aiding" the fraud by making loans to investors in the community.
Five people have pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges in connection with the case.
The project began to unravel when a BB&T official in the Shelby office became suspicious that an employee who recently transferred to the branch was making too many Penland loans. He asked Stroupe to look into it.
But after Stroupe discovered the scheme, she said company officials didn't want to hear about it. Several banks helped finance the project, and BB&T lent more than $20 million to investors.
"They want to ignore the bad and just look at the good," Stroupe said. "I felt like I was talking to a brick wall. I was jumping up and down and screaming, trying to get somebody's attention, and I felt like I was being ignored."
Stroupe filed a whistleblower lawsuit after being fired over what the judge deemed "one or two essentially minor issues."
"Accordingly, I find that BB&T has failed to support by clear and convincing evidence that it would have taken the same adverse employment action absent Stroupe's protected activity," Tureck wrote.
Associated Press Writer Mitch Weiss contributed to this report from Charlotte.