Buncombe files new lawsuit against Wanda Greene

Wanda Greene
SECOND ACT: Three years after being sentenced to prison on federal corruption charges, former Buncombe County Manager Wanda Greene is the subject of a new lawsuit alleging financial misdeeds. The suit also names Greene’s son, Michael Greene, and his wife, Celena Greene. Photo courtesy of Buncombe County

The sordid saga of Wanda Greene reached an apparent denouement in August 2019, when the former Buncombe County manager was sentenced to seven years in federal prison on charges of program fraud, receiving kickbacks and making a false tax return. But like many good Hollywood tales, the story has gotten a sequel.

On July 6, county officials launched a new civil action against Greene in Buncombe County Superior Court. The complaint, which also names Greene’s son, Michael Greene, and his wife, Celena Greene, alleges that the former official hid hundreds of thousands of dollars with her family members to avoid paying restitution to Buncombe County.

According to a document filed by Philip Anderson and Ron Payne, the attorneys retained by the county in this matter, Wanda Greene began transferring large sums to Michael and Celena Greene in August 2017, shortly after learning she was under federal investigation. Those transfers, totaling at least $350,000, continued even after she reported to prison in October 2019.

Anderson and Payne also allege that, after Wanda Greene gave Michael and Celena Greene power of attorney upon her entry to prison, the couple deposited up to $108,000 in checks payable to her into their own accounts. (Michael Greene, who had been a business intelligence manager with Buncombe County, was himself sentenced in August 2019 to six months of prison time and a $5,000 fine for misuse of county credit cards.)

“Wanda Greene did not make, and Michael Greene and Celena Greene did not take or accept, the transfers in good faith,” the attorneys write. “Wanda Greene made the transfers with intent to hinder, delay and defraud the county and her other creditors.”

The former county manager has already paid Buncombe $750,000 to settle one civil action, which released her from further claims related to her kickback schemes, improper use of county purchase cards and several other matters. However, Anderson and Payne say Greene reached no such agreement with the county over her role in a different corruption issue: the misappropriation of about $575,000 in county funds, together with former Commissioner Ellen Frost, to support the Tryon International Equestrian Center.

Frost settled with the county for $175,000 in April 2021, and she served a six-month prison sentence after pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit federal program fraud. In August 2021, the Superior Court ordered Greene to pay over $419,000 plus interest for her own participation in the equestrian scheme; according to Anderson and Payne, she has since “failed and refused to pay the default judgment or the debt underlying it, in whole or in part.”

The county’s lawyers are asking that the Superior Court take the allegedly hidden funds away from Michael and Celena Greene and order Wanda Greene to pay her debt using that money. They also allege that the transfers constitute “unfair or deceptive trade acts” for which the county is entitled to additional damages in excess of $25,000.

On Aug. 5, Wanda Greene filed a motion through her attorney that she be given an extra 30 days to respond to the lawsuit. Michael and Celena Greene did not respond to the action, and on Aug 16, the court entered default against them. Unless that judgment is later reversed, the couple will thus not be permitted to offer a defense.

The alleged transfers stand in stark contrast to Wanda Greene’s remarks at her 2019 sentencing, when she spoke in contrite terms about her fraudulent behavior. “I do realize that I have damaged Buncombe County significantly, and I accept full responsibility for my actions and choices using the poorest judgment I could possibly use,” she said. “I do hope that my ownership of my mistakes and acknowledgement of the damage I’ve done will begin to restore some of the community’s faith in the existing government and their willingness and their hard work to move forward.”

As of press time, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Greene continued to serve prison time at the Raleigh Residential Reentry Management Field Office in Granville County. The BOP describes such reentry centers as “halfway houses” that “provide a safe, structured, supervised environment, as well as employment counseling, job placement, financial management assistance and other programs and services.”

Greene’s sentence has been reduced, and she is scheduled for release at the end of March. Details regarding that sentencing change were not available from federal court records.

The full text of the county’s lawsuit against the Greenes is embedded below.

Greene Lawsuit 7-6-22 by Daniel Walton on Scribd

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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the News Editor of Mountain Xpress, coordinating coverage of Western North Carolina's governments, community groups, businesses and environment. His work has previously appeared in Capital at Play, Edible Asheville and the Citizen-Times, among other area publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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