Former Lincolnton High School principal Tony Lee Worley, 57, made another court appearance at Lincoln County Superior Court on Tuesday, Feb. 4. The purpose of this hearing was an open courtroom conference between Judge Forrest Bridges and Worley’s attorney of record, David Teddy. Worley currently is facing two counts of indecent liberties with a student, five counts of sexual activity with a student and two counts of solicitation of sexual activity.
The Cleveland and Lincoln County District Attorney’s office currently has two victims involved in this matter, however, there are at least two others not cooperating at this time and others may come forward. The District Attorney’s Office is charging Worley with two Class I and two Class G felonies and are seeking sentencing on the two Class G felonies.
After assistant district attorney Lydia Hoza updated Bridges on the case, Teddy recited Worley’s education and employment history with both the Catawba and Lincoln County School Districts, telling the judge that Worley is an upstanding citizen and has been heavily invested in the community. He asked that the judge consider suspending one of the two Class G felonies. Bridges replied that he probably wouldn’t consider that.
“A school administrator reaching out to children under his trust for sexual favors sends a horrible message,” he said. “He may be a good person, but sometimes good people make terrible mistakes.”
An arraignment hearing will be held at a later date wherein Worley will indicate whether he accepts the deal offered by the DA’s office and pleads guilty, and then a sentencing hearing will be held. Sentencing for two consecutive Class G felonies could carry a sentencing of few as 10 or as many as 50 months.
Arrested on July 8 by the Lincolnton Police Department, Worley was charged with two counts of felony indecent liberties with a student, five counts of felony sexual activity with a student, two counts of felony solicitation of sex with a student and two counts of misdemeanor solicitation for indecent liberties with a minor. The magistrate set his bond at $47,000 and Worley was released on a surety appearance bond issued by Seneca Insurance Company. According to the release order, Worley is not to be on any Lincoln County Schools property, around any minor children or victims of these charges.
According to the arrest warrants, offenses of felony sexual activity with a student occurred between March 1 and June 7, offenses of indecent liberties with two known students occurred between March 1 and June 3 and offenses of solicitation for indecent liberties with a minor occurred between March 1 and June 7.
According to search warrants obtained by Lincolnton Police Detective Jennifer Green, allegations of sexual misconduct were made by a male student who was enrolled at Lincolnton High School during the 2018-2019 academic year. That student first approached Dr. Heath Belcher, the director of human resources for the school system, on June 21. Belcher then contacted law enforcement. Worley was suspended from his position on June 22 and resigned on June 25, giving up all professional licenses in the process.
Green has obtained two search warrants to date, one for Worley’s home in Lincolnton and three vehicles, and another for Worley’s office at Lincolnton High School.
Investigation of these crimes has been conducted by the Lincolnton Police Criminal Investigation Division with the assistance of the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, the Gastonia Police Department and the Lincoln County Child Advocacy Center, according to a press release received from Lincolnton Police Department captain Brian Green on July 8. Preservation letters were issued to a number of social media and online dating websites to give investigators opportunities to obtain search warrants.