Pete's Prep: Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018

Buncombe leadership indicted by federal grand jury

As the corruption scandal surrounding former Buncombe County Manager Wanda Greene's has grown over the months, one criminal conspiracy I've been surprised to NOT see was kickbacks.

Well, not any longer.

Yesterday, the US Attorney's office indicted Greene along with former Manager Mandy Stone and former Assistant Manager Jon Creighton. You can read the indictments here.

They engaged in an expansive and expensive kickback and bribery scheme involving a contractor that oversaw work at the landfill, the shooting range, the A-B Tech campus, and other county projects.

During the relevant time period, Greene, Creighton and Stone used  their official positions to enrich and benefit themselves, and, in doing  so, they deprived Buncombe County citizens of their right to the honest  services of the defendants.  The kickback and bribery scheme the  defendants engaged in involved, among other things, multiple,  all-expense paid trips, meals, tickets to sporting events, and spa  treatments paid for by the Contractor.  The defendants solicited and  accepted these gifts, payments, and other things of value from the  Contractor, in exchange for awarding County contracts to the Contractor  and the businesses he was affiliated with at the time.   

Prior to 2014, Greene, Creighton, Stone, and other County personnel,  went on trips that were in some way connected to legitimate County  business.  During these trips, the Contractor provided them with such  things of value as expensive meals, wine, and other excursions.  By  2014, Greene, Creighton, and Stone began to solicit and accept trips,  valuable gifts, and other things of value from the Contractor that were  entirely unrelated to any legitimate County business.  The all-expense  paid pleasure trips were to destinations within the U.S. such as Key  West, Boston, Martha’s Vineyard, Napa Valley, and the Grand Canyon, and  to international cities, including Vienna, Budapest, Cartagena, and  Vancouver.  At some time in 2015, Greene prepared a written list of  specific places and dates she wanted to travel, and instructed Creighton  to pass the list to the Contractor, which Creighton did.  On June 6,  2016, during a text message exchange with Creighton and Stone about  future trips to be paid by the Contractor, Greene wrote: “Agent  needs to know we love and want pool and dinner on island . . . . We  should think Gulf Coast or Bahamas for January trip and celebrate  Mandy’s birthday at a new place.”

On some occasions, the defendants charged the County directly for  airfare for trips that coincided with official meetings happening in the  vicinity.  However, the majority of the travel arrangements were made  using the Contractor’s credit card information, which the defendants had  access to, or, in Creighton’s case, using the Contractor’s actual  credit card. During these trips, the Contractor would generally charge  the additional expenses to his credit cards when he accompanied the  County employees.  For the trips during which the Contractor did not  accompany the County employees, the defendants used a copy of the  Contractor’s credit card to pay for any travel expenses they incurred.

At other times, in order to earn extra rewards points, Creighton used  his own credit card to pay for lodging and other expenses, for which he  was later reimbursed by the Contractor.  As another way to help  Creighton earn more rewards points, during some of the trips, the  Contractor stayed at separate hotels, paid for the rooms using  Creighton’s credit card, and then reimbursed Creighton for those  charges.  In order for the Contractor and Creighton to be able to use  each other’s credit cards, Greene and Creighton caused personnel in the  County’s Human Resources Department to create false official Buncombe  County employee identification cards, one with the Contractor’s  photograph but with Creighton’s name and title, and the other with  Creighton’s photograph but with the Contractor’s name and a false title  as a County employee.

In addition to receiving these all-expense paid vacations from the  Contractor, the defendants also took advantage of these trips to defraud  the County in at least two other ways:  First, the defendants did not  use annual leave for these trips, but rather falsely claimed that they  traveled on official County business, and claimed to have worked for the  duration of the trip.  This enabled them to preserve their hours of  annual leave, which they later “sold” to the County, thereby receiving  monetary payments to which they were not legally entitled. 

Specifically, at various times between 2011 and 2017, the County paid  Greene more than $360,000 for approximately a total of 3,216 hours of  her unused leave, some of which was related to these trips.  Similarly,  Stone received more than $130,000 from the County for unused leave  between 2007 and her retirement in 2018, and Creighton received more  than $89,000 for unused leave between 2011 and his retirement in 2017.  A  portion of their unused hours for which they were paid was related to  these trips.

The second way in which the defendants used their trips to defraud  the County was by submitting reimbursement requests for the cost of  meals and incidental expenses they supposedly incurred during their  travel, even though their meals and expenses were actually being paid  for by the Contractor. 

The unnamed contractor that engaged in the kickback scheme is reportedly Joseph Wiseman, Jr.

But, wait! There's more!

Republican New York Congressman Chris Collins was arrested on charges of insider trading.

Florida cows help catch a suspect fleeing from police.

A Maryland mom failed a drug test... after eating a poppy seed bagel for breakfast.

Pete Kaliner

Pete Kaliner

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