Pete's Prep: Wednesday, June 6, 2018

posted by Pete Kaliner - 

Former Buncombe County Manager faces more charges

Last night during the Buncombe Board of County Commissioners meeting, word came down that the former County Manager was facing an additional 23 federal criminal charges.

The news release came from the US Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina, Andrew Murray, and it outlines how Greene allegedly used county-funded life insurance policies on key employees to obtain about $400,000 after she retired.

Prosecutors say she began the scheme in 2015. [emphasis added]

The indictment alleges that in April 2015, Greene began communicating with a Charlotte-based insurance agent about her intent to procure insurance policies for herself and certain other Buncombe County employees at County expense.  Shortly after meeting with the insurance agent, Greene falsely began telling selected County employees that she had been working with the Board on a new benefit program for certain employees involving the County’s purchase of life insurance policies for them, at no expense to the employee.  Greene allegedly stressed that only certain employees would be receiving this benefit, and told the employees with whom she spoke to keep this program and their participation strictly confidential.

Her plan worked for a number of reasons.

First, the concentration of power Greene had amassed (as others before her did). Greene had total control to move people around inside county government - rewarding loyal lieutenants and punishing those she could not trust.

Second, Greene was only able to amass this level of control by splitting Commissioners and employees from one another and telling them different stories. When we begin comparing the stories we discover the extent of the deceit.

Third, none of this power structure could have occurred had Buncombe County Commissioners not permitted it via their willingness to let the County Manager do the work. This represents a complete failure of oversight on the part of the County Commissioners. For years.

Fourth, there were county employees who knew Greene was engaged in fraudulent activities but were either too afraid of her, or of risking their careers to blow the whistle. The fact that not a single employee felt they could take any of their concerns to one single County Commissioner is another indication of how utterly impotent the elected officials were. Or else they perceived to be part of the corruption.

Back to the news release from the US Attorney:

According to the indictment, the policies that Greene was procuring were whole life insurance policies, with a resulting cash value and the ability to borrow against such policies.  Furthermore, the indictment alleges that, at Greene’s direction, the County prepaid the initial payment and several years’ worth of annual premiums for each policy agreement, which meant that, upon termination of the policy, a policy owner could receive whatever cash value the policy had, as well as the remaining prepaid premiums. The indictment alleges that in this manner, in the first month after Greene retired from her County employment, she was able to obtain cash out of two such policies, thereby personally obtaining approximately $396,000 of fraudulently-acquired money funded by Buncombe County. 

Again, this is only possible when the oversight board does not provide oversight.

All key employees and department heads at the county should have their contracts (and benefits package) individually reviewed and approved by the County Commission when they are agreed upon by the Manager's office.

By farming out these important decisions, Commissioners abandoned their oath to be stewards of taxpayer money.

According to allegations in the indictment, Greene selected the employees that would receive the life insurance policies and selected the amounts the County would prepay for each policy.  To fund the scheme, Greene did not seek the Board’s authorization to purchase these policies with County funds.  Rather, in order to gain access to the County money necessary to fund her scheme, the indictment alleges that Greene inflated the settlement amounts for two federal civil rights lawsuits against the County that the Board agreed to pay.  She later fraudulently claimed to the life insurance company, the insurance agent, and to the various County employees that the Board had also approved and enacted funding for the life insurance program she had created when it enacted a budget amendment to settle those lawsuits, when, in fact, the Board never approved, and never even knew about the existence of, Greene’s life insurance scheme. 

The indictment further alleges that after the Board approved the requisite budget amendment to fund the settlement of the civil lawsuits, Greene caused a series of interstate wire transactions to make initial lump-sum prepayments, and later quarterly payments, toward the premiums of the various insurance policies.  According to the indictment, shortly before she announced her intention to retire, Greene attempted to quadruple the quarterly payments from $40,000 to $160,000.  When the County’s Finance Director expressed concern about the increased amount, Greene destroyed the handwritten note she had provided requesting the increase, and told the Finance Director to forget about any more payments. 

On May 30, 2017, Greene publicly announced her retirement, which took effect on June 30, 2017.  The indictment alleges that, almost immediately upon her retirement, Greene liquidated her two life insurance policies.  As a result, on or about July 13, 2017, the insurance company sent Greene two checks totaling $395,859.60, which Greene deposited into her State Employee Credit Union account. Less than a month later, on or about August 7, 2017, Greene used a portion of the proceeds from the insurance checks to wire $155,000 from her State Employees Credit Union account to the account of a law firm in Nashville, Tennessee.

This is incredible in its mendacity.

Reporter Jennifer Bowman has the background on these two lawsuits at the Citizen-Times:

The Bowman case is not specifically mentioned in the indictment. But singled out are two dates, August 2013 and September 2014, when two people filed lawsuits against the county after their convictions were vacated by the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission.

Prosecutors say Greene used money set aside to pay settlements in the Bowman case to fund her life insurance fraud scheme.

Walter Rodney Bowman was killed in September 2000 in his Fairview home. Five men pleaded guilty to charges related to the murder. Robert Wilcoxson and Kenneth Kagonyera, of Asheville, were exonerated of the murder in 2011 by the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission. Both filed federal lawsuits against Buncombe County in the bungled murder investigation.

Kagonyera settled for $515,000; Wilcoxson for $5,125,000.

Following guilty pleas, Teddy Isbell spent six years in prison; Damian Mills was incarcerated for 10 years and Larry Williams, who was 16 years old when he was charged, spent nine years behind bars. Those men respectively received $240,000, $512,250 and $750,000 in settlements that came on the heels of the Wilcoxson resolution.

Between the settlement amounts and attorney fees to defend former Sheriff Bobby Medford and several investigators, the cost of civil litigation relating to Bowman’s shooting death totaled about $7.9 million, with insurance picking up $2.9 million, according to previous Citizen Times coverage.

One of Greene's attorneys represented one of the wrongly convicted defendants.

Well, that should make for interesting attorney-client discussions!

Wanda Greene has been ordered to appear on a summons on the charges.  She is charged with 12 counts of wire fraud, each of which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine; eight counts of federal program fraud, each carrying a maximum prison term of 10 years per count and a $250,000 fine; and three counts of money laundering, which carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison per count and a $250,000 fine.

Also, the Board of County Commissioners announced last night after a closed session that they intend to file a lawsuit against Greene.



And another thing...

Buncombe County is exploring whether to start a needle exchange program, as well as an initiative to reduce the jail population by diverting "low-level, first-time offenders."

Pete Kaliner

Pete Kaliner

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