GRAHAM — A former paper carrier is suing the parent company of his old newspaper, the Asheboro Courier-Tribune, saying it didn’t have the right to prosecute him for keeping a massive overpayment.

That company also owns the Burlington Times-News and Lexington Dispatch, among others.

Daniel Oliver Routh was supposed to get an $84.53 “paycheck” deposited into his bank account. But on June 3, he was suddenly $84,530 richer, which, according to his lawsuit, he thought was his to keep and spend. And spend he did.

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He now faces criminal charges in Randolph County even though, according to the suit, he has tried to repay a “significant” part of that overpayment. So he is suing his former employer, calling those charges malicious prosecution.

On June 30, Joseph Tranquill – circulation manager for the Courier-Tribune and other papers the company owns in the Triad and a named defendant in the suit – demanded Routh return the money. On July 6, Routh lost his job at the paper and got a letter from Edwin Larkin, chief litigation counsel for Gannett Co., demanding the immediate return of the $84,445 overpayment mistakenly deposited in Routh’s bank account.

Routh is also the plaintiff in a medical malpractice suit over allegedly faulty equipment used in a hernia operation and three other class-action lawsuits, according to his suit against the newspaper company. He believed the deposit was a “long-awaited and promised lump sum settlement,” and he spent an undisclosed amount of that money paying debts and “other obligations” and as gifts to friends and family.

He calls it a good-faith mistake, but the Asheboro Police contacted him on July 14 also demanding the return of the money and told him he could face felony charges if he did not.

On July 27, Routh wrote a check for what he had left of the overpayment along with some of his personal funds to his lawyer in Graham, Hunt Johnson, so Johnson could arrange a partial repayment to the company. But, according to the suit, the company did not accept the payment.

“These attempts were met with what can only be described as a contemptuous rebuke,” the suit reads.

On July 29, Routh learned he had been charged with felony larceny in Randolph County.

The suit calls those charges “facially invalid” and claims the information the defendants provided to police was false and “resulted in false unsubstantiated and fabricated criminal charges.” As a result Routh lost his job, has had difficulty finding another one, and claims to have suffered harassment by the defendants and law enforcement, as well as anxiety, mental distress, embarrassment and humiliation. All of which caused him to move out of Randolph County.

Routh filed suit in Alamance County Superior Court Aug. 19 against Tranquill and CA NC Holdings Inc., the Delaware-registered subsidiary of New Media Investment Group. That company’s operating subsidiary was Gatehouse Media until it acquired Gannett in 2019 and started operating under that name. It is the largest newspaper chain in the United States.

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Routh’s suit calls getting the overpayment back “clearly a civil matter,” and the criminal charges an abuse of the justice system.

“The unsubstantiated criminal charges against Plaintiff are the result of Defendants’ wrongful and tortious attempts to use law enforcement as a debt collection agency,” the suit reads.

Routh is asking the court for at least $50,000 in damages.

The company has not yet responded to Routh’s suit, and Gannett’s lawyers did not respond to the Times-News request for comment. Routh’s lawyer did not respond for publication. 

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