Feds bring charges against three former Buncombe officials, including Greene

LIFE'S A BEACH: Key West, Fla. is one of many locations in the United States and around the world mentioned in a new federal indictment returned Aug. 7. Former Buncombe County managers Wanda Greene and Mandy Stone, as well as former Assistant County Manager Jon Creighton, were accused of accepting kickbacks from county contractors for meals, travel and entertainment, among other charges.

by David Floyd and Daniel Walton

Key West, Martha’s Vineyard, Budapest, Vienna and the Napa Valley — those are just a few  of the exotic locales a new indictment alleges three former Buncombe County officials visited using kickbacks they received in exchange for local government contracts.

A federal grand jury returned a bill of indictment Aug. 7 bringing charges against three former Buncombe County officials: former County Manager Wanda Greene, former County Manager Mandy Stone and former Planning Director and Assistant County Manager Jon Creighton.

“During the relevant time period, Greene, Creighton and Stone used their official positions to enrich and benefit themselves,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of North Carolina said in a press release issued Tuesday, “and, in doing so, they deprived Buncombe County citizens of their right to the honest services of the defendants.”

According to the indictment, Greene, Creighton and Stone used their positions for personal benefit by asking for and accepting gifts, payments and other items of value from a contractor, who is not named in the indictment, in exchange for county contracts.

In a statement released just after 9 p.m. on Aug. 7, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners said the county would review any contracts with Joseph Wiseman Jr., as well as “any entities with whom he is or has been associated,” to determine the county’s strategy for moving forward. Commissioners instructed the county’s legal team to take action to “recover any monies that were expended as a part of the fraudulent scheme set forth in the indictment.”

Prior to 2014, county employees, including Greene, Creighton and Stone, went on trips connected in some way to county business. During those trips, the indictment says, the contractor provided expensive meals, wine and tickets to sporting events. By 2014, the trio of county officials allegedly began requesting and accepting trips, gifts and other items of value from the contractor that were unrelated to legitimate county business.

The indictment says some of these trips coincided with official conferences, such as the International City/County Management Association or the National Association of Counties, which the defendants used as an excuse to explain their travels — most of which had no relationship to official business.

The indictment alleges that the contractor paid for trips to Key West, Boston, Martha’s Vineyard, Maine, Phoenix, the Napa Valley, the Grand Canyon, Jackson Hole and Yellowstone National Park, as well as Vienna, Budapest, Cartagena and Vancouver.

According to the indictment, the contractor paid for airline tickets, hotel rooms, meals, beverages, ground transportation, sightseeing trips, spa sessions and gift shop purchases, which included cases of wine from Napa Valley vineyards and health and beauty items from spas that Greene and Stone visited.

The indictment says Greene and Creighton had the authority to award county contracts to the unnamed contractor’s companies. “They and the contractor understood and agreed that providing these trips, gifts and favors was a necessary condition to his companies’ continuing to obtain contracts with the county,” the indictment reads.

The indictment says the contractor provided Greene, Creighton and Stone with his credit card numbers to make the process easier.

The officials typically used the card numbers to make travel reservations for the trips, the indictment says, but they sometimes charged the county directly for airline tickets on trips that coincided with nearby official meetings. The indictment says that on occasions when Creighton’s wife accompanied him on trips, he usually paid for her airfare using his own money.

When the contractor accompanied Greene, Stone and Creighton on trips, the contractor typically put the expenses on his credit card, the indictment says. When the contractor did not accompany the defendants, they used a copy of the contractor’s card to pay for rooms, meals, beverages, gift store purchases and other expenses. At times, the indictment says, Creighton would use his own credit card to pay for lodging in order to earn reward points on his Marriott Rewards account. The contractor would then reimburse him for those expenses.

The indictment says the defendants were also able to sell accrued annual leave hours back to the county by submitting false time records that claimed they had worked eight or more hours during work days and some weekends while they were on non-business vacations. The defendants, according to the indictment, also submitted per diem and expense claims for the cost of meals and other expenses during those trips — even though the contractor was paying for those meals and expenses.

The indictment says the three former county employees also submitted reimbursement claims for parking costs at the Asheville Regional Airport, airline seat upgrades and baggage fees or used county-issued credit cards to pay those fees.

The contractor usually negotiated county contracts through Creighton, obtaining contracts for three companies the contractor was affiliated with — one of which he owned outright. The county contracts often included a condition the indictment noted is unusual: If the contractor “became disassociated” from the company for any reason and no longer served as the project manager for the agreement, the county could terminate the agreement immediately.

According to the indictment, the county government “often unwittingly” funded the bribes and kickbacks paid by the contractor. The contractor kept records of the costs of tickets, lodging, meals and other benefits and sent invoices to the county claiming that the expenses were for the completion of specific portions of a county contract. The county allegedly reimbursed the contractor for the cost of kickbacks given to county officials, which the indictment says the contractor misrepresented as expenses associated with county contracts.

The defendants face 29 counts of wire fraud and aiding and abetting the same; one count of conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States; one count of receiving bribes and kickbacks and aiding and abetting the same; and one count of federal program fraud and aiding and abetting the same.

Greene, Stone and Creighton are scheduled to appear in court on the new charges on Monday, Aug. 20 at 9 a.m. in Asheville.

The taxman cometh

The grand jury also introduced new charges against Greene specifically: six counts of tax fraud tied to falsification of her income tax returns for calendar years 2012-17. For each of those years, the indictment claims that Greene failed to report the additional income she made by embezzling Buncombe County funds. That amount fluctuated from approximately $8,400 in 2012 to $29,256 in 2015.

The new counts flag the whole-life insurance policies Greene purchased in 2015, when she allegedly failed to report $310,000 in Buncombe County funds that were transferred to her money market account for buying those policies. She then omitted an additional $62,000 and $160,000 of insurance purchases in 2016 and 2017, respectively.

Beyond lies of omission, the indictment alleges that Greene falsely claimed business expenses on her Form 1040 for 2012, 2013 and 2017. For that most recent year, she allegedly submitted an additional Schedule C form claiming sole proprietorship of a business named only “Buncombe County.” While Greene claimed that Buncombe County made no income, she did attribute it with expenses of over $32,000, including $25,000 in “legal and professional expenses” and $8,300 in “utilities.”

The actual Buncombe County, for comparison, took in nearly $331 million in taxes, fees and other income for fiscal year 2017. Greene’s own reported income for 2017 was nearly $525,000.

Each of these tax fraud counts carries a maximum penalty of a $100,000 fine and 3 years of prison time. If convicted on all six counts, Greene thus faces up to an additional $600,000 in fines and 18 years of imprisonment.

In an email received at 5:23 p.m. on Aug. 7, Brownie Newman, chair of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, wrote to Xpress, “The commission has not prepared a statement as a group at this time. As Chair, I would simply state that, if proven true, these charges against former county employees represent a deep violation of the public trust. We are committed to doing everything we can to cooperate with this ongoing investigation.”

 

The two indictments can be read in full below.

As Filed – Indictment by David Floyd on Scribd

As Filed – Superseding Greene Indictment by David Floyd on Scribd

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About David Floyd
David Floyd is the Buncombe County reporter for the Mountain Xpress. He previously worked as a general-assignment reporter for the Johnson City Press. Email him at dfloyd@mountainx.com.

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29 thoughts on “Feds bring charges against three former Buncombe officials, including Greene

  1. John Tripp

    It’s incredible that they got away with it for so long but there seems to be a paucity of real investigative journalism being conducted in Asheville. Who is peering behind the curtains of power and exposing corruption within government? Guess it’s easier, and more palatable to advertisers to run lifestyle puff pieces ad nauseam. The only paper in WNC that seems to cover government in depth is Smoky Mountain News. Asheville’s media should’ve been onto these crooks, thank goodness they were caught, and justice can be served. Hope this is a wake up call for citizens, and media to be more vigilant in watching our government official’s handling of our tax dollars.

    • Enlightened Enigma

      when democrackkks run the show, as they have here since Reconstruction, the media dare not find nor report anything that might tarnish the democrackkk agenda … never. That is what is wrong with most all ‘newspapers’ in America today, and the journalism screwls that no longer teach investigative reporting / writing, only agenda pushing and protection. Newspaper people have become the new
      enemy that most people don’t even realize…(AC-T) …(AJC) (NewsObserver) (WP), etc …the list is long.

  2. don

    Wanda and crew got away with for so long because they had no overseers….. not the County Council folks…. no internal financial reviews…. nothing. NOTHING to stop the larceny. WOW.

    • Enlightened Enigma

      David Gantt and Brownie Newman should MAN UP and take full responsibility, then Brownie should resign and they both should leave Buncombe Co.
      Despicable democrackkks will no longer be tolerated. We have had enough of EVIL democrackkks running our county and city.

  3. Stan Hawkins

    If there ever was a sequence of events that reveal the audacity, arrogant, out of touch behavior of a bloated usurping power government, this is it. For me it started with the Great Airport Authority Conference to Hawaii during the heights of the Great Recession 2009-2010. Commissioner Gantt even then did his best to make this fiasco palatable for the taxpayers, experiencing in excess of 10% unemployment while struggling to pay their property taxes. Arrogance witnessed, and a sinking feeling began to grow.

    When I attended the first county commissioners meeting after Stone was promoted giving her report of promised transparency, and given unanimous praise by all commissioners for stepping up to save the day, the sinking feeling I had then is the same one I have now. They had just hired the new county manager internally, not considering other or outside candidates if the story is true. When I asked for an explanation in writing to be given to explain the math, interest assumptions, etc. of the retention bonuses, none were forth coming.

    Incompetent, out of touch, head in the sand county commissioners can no longer be allowed to occupy the halls of this government. While we await for the next shoe to drop, let’s throw them all out, hit the reset button with some common folk who give a crap, give a 50% rebate on property taxes for two years, put a freeze on bureaucrat hiring, and require two people to sign all checks over $500.

    Finally, as the first commenter notes, where has the investigative reporting been? The Airport Authority Conference in Hawaii nearly ten years ago should have been a wake up call that we have people in power who feel they can abuse the resources supplied by county taxpayers. Shame on you.

    • luther blissett

      “give a 50% rebate on property taxes for two years”

      You think the appropriate response to county staff enjoying lavish kickbacks is to lay off sheriff’s deputies, shutter schools and county services, and give rich people a massive tax break? Because that’s what you’re asking for: $100m per year. Calm down. That’s like reacting to someone stealing your car radio by pushing it into a lake.

      “Throw them all out” is the slogan of the lazy. Audit the contracts, have a public inquiry that puts past and present commissioners under oath, and work out whether people were actively looking the other way or whether an elected body working part-time makes for easy marks.

      • Stan Hawkins

        Ah ha, sounds like I got your attention. Is not my tactics to get your attention the same being used by the likes of Antifa, BLM, etc to disrupt the status quo as recommended by Alinsky and co? Do I hear your objection to those tactics? If not, why not?

          • Stan Hawkins

            Okay, I get it. Let’s just petition to rename Buncombe County, “Come With Your Money County.”

      • Lulz

        LOL part time? How many years have some of them been in council and now the commission? If they’re that incompetent, then they don’t belong anywhere near policy decisions.

  4. Beth

    Weren’t these folks also active on public boards and committees, like didn’t Stone serve as a trustee for abtech community college?

  5. Buncy

    Your county clerk, sheriff, district court judges, all Democrats by the way, and so many other county officials are corrupt too. And most people who were reading and watching knew that Mandy Stone and Jon Creighton had dirty hands and sticky fingers. I hope the US Attorney will keep going and do more disinfecting with more indictments. Calvin Hill, Eddie Clontz, and Julie Kepple ought to be indicted and defrocked for common chicanery. Steven Cogburn should have been indicted and convicted and booted out of the courthouse long ago. And it’s good to know that soon the county will be rid of its corrupt, incompetent sheriff who is so adept at the dirtiest of dirty politics.

    Corruption is more contagious than ebola.

  6. Lisa Frattaroli Baldwin, BSW

    “So many Buncombe County employees have left their jobs stating a need to “spend more time with their families”. Buncombe County’s reputation for decades has been to happily destroy the lives of our citizen’s children and their families. That is a legacy created by Mandy Stone, Wanda Greene, and their accomplices. If you haven’t read my comments left at the Mountain Xpress- you should. It is sad that some of the most horrendous crimes they committed might go unrevealed and unpunished. I believe the people of Buncombe (the victims) need a louder voice in order to expose the horrid crimes these women are hiding. As a member of this community, I hope you will join me in advocating for not only my family but the hundreds of families possibly abused by these women for decades. My comments about our family can be located here https://mountainx.com/news/take-the-money-and-run-greene-nets-500k-payday-over-6-months/#comment-2987127

  7. Robin Canuck

    I’m ready for Brownie to resign. I’ve had just about enough of his “leadership”.

    • Enlightened Enigma

      Brownie Newman and David Gantt are the two biggest enemies of Buncombe County…they should be shamed to move away from here…be gone!

  8. It is interesting to see how their greed really ramped up after the denial of funds and forced shutdown of URTV, Western North Carolina Community Media Center on June 7, 2011. That day David Gantt, also admitted to their conspiracy with the City of Asheville, in their commitment to silencing the people who spoke out regarding the corruption in Buncombe County. If the Feds are doing an intensive search into all of the criminal allegations, then expect to see more of the “top” officials being indicted. Media is controlled by ass slapping. I look forward to see which of the bedfellows rolls over on the other’s dirty sheets.

  9. Enlightened Enigma

    Oh yeah , and they claim more indictments on the way again! Will it be any republicans ?

  10. Concerned Citizen

    Firstly…the majority of these people aren’t democrats. Secondly, the problem isn’t their politics it’s the absence of checks and balances by the people instead of by the same people committing the problems. We have republicans in majority in house and senate at the moment and the rich have been given a tax haven while the rest of us have been burdened with picking up the check.

    The fact is…the people that caused these issues also chose their replacements and nothing has changed. It will happen again and is still happening. Until a full cleaning is done…and the administration as well as supervision is replaced it is all a waste of time and newspaper. We’ve overpaid taxes to pay for embezzlement and pretty soon we will have our values raised and our taxes raised to pay for more. They already hid a $2 million raise for the highest paid employees in the budget just passed after all this fiasco.

    • Lulz

      LOL and yet the same people are re-elected time and time again. Hell, the fight against district elections in the city was nothing more than a sham to keep the same thing going on. When you have a minority that votes and actually participates and a majority that’s ill informed and literally takes it without so much as a whimper, well we have a disaster.

    • Enlightened Enigma

      huh? liar? they are ALL friggin democrackkks! the majority of elected democrackkks in NC are criminals.

    • Lulz

      As far as tax cuts go, corporations were relocating offshore to avoid the highest tax rates in the world. Problem many don’t get, there’s always another country that will undercut taxes to get revenue. On top of believing the US can continue to hemorrhage jobs and still function.

    • Robin Canuck

      Actually, Concerned Citizen, the definition of majority literally means, “a greater number”. A majority of the County Board are democrats (both current and the previous board), and a majority of the departed and indicted employees are democrats. Starting your statement off with a lie lessens or invalidates the entirety of your intended statement.
      Secondly, the “big government” mentality of the democratic party and it’s focus on government control and regulation of everything is absolutely part of the problem, and no matter how much you’d like to shift the focus; Wanda and company stealing millions of tax dollars had absolutely nothing to do with the republican majorities in Raleigh. Her shenanigans were going on before those state majorities existed, so I don’t see how that’s relevant to your point. What is relevant is that Wanda and company were democrats who stole from taxpayers under the eye of a democrat controlled board.
      I do agree that a full cleaning needs to happen, and that the entire Board needs to go. They are either complicit and knew or too ignorant to inquire; either of which makes them unqualified for office in my eyes. In fact, Chairman Newman going on TV and admitting that he hadn’t even read the latest indictments tells me that he is disconnected from the issue.

      • Richard B.

        Just reading this. Robin has nailed it! Key sentence; “What is relevant is that Wanda and company were democrats who stole from taxpayers under the eye of a democrat controlled board.”
        Most of the current BC Board members have been there for the past 4-5 years, plenty of time for a diligent and responsible Commissioner to get a whiff of what was happening.
        There will be more folks coming before the Feds. For sure

  11. Audrey Yatras

    The absence of checks and balances and any sort of investigative reporting allows the Wanda Green & Son and county employees to have free access to anything they and their pals want. I think the contractor that bought off this group and was rewarded with contracts should also be rewarded with free publicity! Were they awarded any sole-source work based on the uniquely-qualified experience they bring to Asheville?

  12. Dianne Messer

    My concern is with the external independent CPA/audit firm that should have been under contract to audit according to federal guidelines. Were they that bad at their job so as to not question many of these practices? They certainly hold some responsibility too.

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